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Celebrating Christmas as a non-Christian

By Monday, December 24, 2012

I love Christmas! But as an atheist  it may seems a little weird for me, or any other non-christian to be celebrating Christmas. Some Christians even seem to find it offensive that people like me want to participate in this holiday. So why am I celebrating a Christian holiday if I'm not a Christian?

First, my parents comes from a Christian nation, and they grew up celebrating Christmas, and so I did to. You could say I am a "culturally Christian Atheist" as Richard Dawkins puts it. I'm not sure if my parent's grew up going to church or were baptized, but my sisters and I have never practiced a religion. But Christmas is fun, it's something to look forwards to when the nights are long and the days are cold, and I have lots of happy childhood memories of it.

Second, holidays, traditions, cultures and religion evolved and borrow from each other. Christmas evolved from pagan (let's be clear, pagan is a kind of religion, not a single specific religion) traditions celebrating the solstice and rebirth.

I'm not going to get into a big history lesson here, but here are some of the other traditions Christmas has borrowed from:

So essentially, a single religion or tradition cannot claim Christmas - including Christianity!

Third, even amongst Christians there are so many non religious ways to celebrate. Santa Claus does not appear in any official church doctrine that I'm aware of.  The whole season is full of folkloric, quasi religious figures. Here in Germany children celebrate December 6th as St. Nikolas Day, where they leave their shoes out overnight and he fills with Chocolate for the (as well as Santa Claus visiting Christmas Eve while they're at church!). They also celebrate Advent on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas by lighting candles, eating cookies and singing carols. Boxing day is more heavily celebrated here than it was amongst my American friends.

The south of Germany, Austria and neighboring countries recognize a sort of anti-St Nikolas figure in Krampus, who instead of leaving coal for naughty Children, carried them away in a Sack.

Krampus looks like he'd be right at home on a black metal album cover:

Pretty crazy, huh? I'm too far North for any Krampi, but I'd love to see a Krampus Parade one day!

Of course there are plenty of other non-religious or at least non Christian ways we Americans celebrate Christmas, which brings me to my fourth point: Christmas is evolving beyond Christianity, and has taken on more significance than just commemorating Christ's birth. Santa Claus, Elves who makes toys, Christmas trees, stockings, Reindeer, Rudolph, Snowmen, exchanging presents, visiting family, and all that delicious food (oh, the food) are all non religious ways we celebrate Christmas.

But there's also less superficial trademarks a non-religious Christmas has acquired. Ask what The Spirit of Christmas is and I bet most answers you get won't be (or just be) about Jesus. Christmas is about family, about compassion, about how it's better to give than to receive, about generosity, about helping one another out. I'm not saying a religious holiday can't be include these too, but these are all ideas and traits that are not dependent on religion and are separate from commemorating Jesus's Birth.

As Christmas becomes more and more secular, it's moving away from celebrating the birth a specific religious figure, and towards celebrating togetherness, family, friendship, and reliving childhood memories.  (and don't forget the food!)

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