Unholy Days

Red holiday ornament siting in the snow.
“Ornamental Snow” by James Jordan. Some rights reserved.

“You’re an atheist? Oh, you must be lonely and miserable during the holidays.”

“No, not at all. I celebrate too.”

“What? What do you celebrate?”

You know how it goes. People who have never gotten far enough outside Christianity to look back in and realize that Santa Claus isn’t Jesus and eggnog wouldn’t have kept well in Israel just can’t wrap their heads around the idea of secular holidays. They can’t quite figure out how we manage to make festive without the bible, even though theirs doesn’t make an appearance when everyone is sitting around the Christmas tree.

So we’re going to help them out. The only catch is that to do that, we’re going to need some help.

On Sunday, December 23, at 9 a.m. Central time, we’re going to do a special holiday edition of Atheists Talk. It’s going to be all about what we do, as atheists, as everyone else is celebrating Christmas or Ramadan or Yule or making a big deal out of Hannukah for the sake of the children or going out for Chinese food and a movie.

In order to do that, we need to hear from people about what they do. More specifically, we need to hear from you.

What do you do over these dark days? Do you keep the old traditions minus the churchy bits? Do you still go to church for some reason? Does Santa visit? Do you do a big family meal? Do the people you spend the holidays with know you’re atheist? Do you decorate? If you do, what kinds of symbols do you include? What new traditions have you carved for yourself? What movies define this time of year for you? How do you really feel about Christmas music? What’s the most unholy holiday you’ve ever had?

Everybody does this time of year differently. We want to know what you do.

On that Sunday, you can call us in the studio at 952-946-6205 or you can send us your story ahead of time. Drop a comment here or email it to [email protected].

We sometimes call this the season of lights. Let’s shed a little this year, shall we?

Unholy Days
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20 thoughts on “Unholy Days

  1. 1

    Lately, we spend it gaming (board games) with friends. Like epic, 8-12 hour days, sometimes 2-3 days in a row (we do go home and sleep at night…) of various games. ‘Tis a rollicking good time with food, fun, friends, and a fair bit of adult beverages.

    My wife and I do occasionally make the effort to go visit family during the holidays, but travel by air sucks this time of year, and we’re a 4 day drive, with lots of mountain passes in between, so not likely any time soon.

    We may, however, start a tradition of holiday in Hawaii.

  2. 2

    Actually, I’m one of those atheists who really does hate Christmas. I particularly loathe carols, the tacky decorations, the tidal wave of pressure to consume, the garbage on TV (not that this is much worse these days than at other times) and (I’m British) the Windsor-worship that is likely to be more prominent than ever this year. My wife and son visit my in-laws, I stay at home with the guinea pig, and this year the dog, and largely ignore the whole thing.

  3. 3

    My wife and I like to keep the Eve to ourselves and make sure we watch some terrible but enjoyable movie. There’s also one Christmas Eve present that we trade, and the rest go on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is also when we go tolerate the stress of family celebrations.

  4. 4

    Canadian here – I go to a daughter’s house in Mississauga for a big meal and the gift giving on one or another of the days around yule – depends when my younger daughter has her children. I am now the matriarch, so they get to cook . I love yule music and I have Manheim Steamroller on right now in the background. I am going to the symphony with a girl friend for Holiday Classics on Sunday, and later this month we are also seeing a local Nutcracker, and the Canadian Brass are coming to Guelph [I got tickets, yeaa!]. Also Symphony on New Years Day.
    I probably won’t get a tree up again this year, [I am still unpacking] but that doesn’t stop me making yule decorations for the tree. Got the wreath on the door – made by me of fabric and felt and buttons and stuff. I will watch my favourite Christmas Carol, the one with Patrick Stewart, and both Fantasias. I have chosen the big gifts and have yet to buy the small gifts and wrap things. The grandchildren range from 25 to 14 – so they will probably get packages of the universal gift certificate – the ones with the queen’s picture on them.
    My daughters are threatening to come out to Guelph to visit me over the holidays, I hope they bring tools with them. Some things have become very awkward.
    A co-worker is chuffed with herself over getting the days between and around the statutory holidays for her vacation days. I shall probably work through quite comfortably. I enjoy the quiet.
    I shall be enjoying myself. I love the season, and de-godifying it hasn’t really changed it for me.

  5. 5

    Sleeping off jetlag from international travel almost every other year. Scheduling seeing my most immediate family around my sister’s in-laws, with a bit of a preference given to giving presents after Christmas so some people can benefit from sales and other people can avoid the crush. My sister’s household decorates a tree. My father and his wife and I treat it largely as a free day with eggnog. My father likes to invite for dinner, a time or two, some of his international students who weren’t able to go home.

  6. 6

    Hey Stephanie,

    While I am an atheist, my wife is an old time southern christian. So our celebrations are perhaps an odd mix of irreverence and tradition. I’m a jazz fan, so most of our holiday music is jazz or an eclectic mix. We do have music that we reserve for the season.

    We decorate the apartment with evergreens and poinsettias, stockings over the fireplace, etc, but we don’t put up any exterior lights.

    I’m a woodworker so I like to make small ornaments as gifts, things like nutcracker figures and reindeer. We exchange gifts with family, and travel across the country every third year or so (her folks are very religious). She has an extensive Christmas card list, I don’t but sign them anyway. We try to choose a nondenominational card.

    We typically invite friends over for drinks and or a meal. Interestingly for the purposes of this discussion, one of our favorite couples is Jewish, but that only just occurred to me in this context. Odd also, I suppose is that we usually serve ham. So obviously neither we, nor our friends tend to be overtly sanctimonious.

    While she has a few favorite Christmas movies, I generally find them overly sentimental. We do try to catch a performance of either the Nutcracker Suite, a concert, or some other holiday play, just as a treat to ourselves.

    We generally treat Christmas as a secular holiday, with a few personal exceptions of hers. Mutual respect and appreciation make the holidays something for us to look forward to.


  7. 7

    Each year I mix irreverence and tradition in proportions that shift with life circumstances and mood. SomaFM’s “Xmas in Frisko” Internet radio station is staple soundtrack material–a mix of Bing Crosby, Adam Sandler, and everything in between. When I don’t travel across the continent to visit family, I put up a tree (a real one, of course!). I can’t usually be arsed to put up big decorations, but I do enjoy looking at ornaments each year and recalling past holidays.

    Last year, I acquired a rubber ducky nativity set that’s perfect to float in a blue dish below the tree, among the presents. It’s a nod to my Xian upbringing without being too irritating. My sig o is Jewish of the mostly nonobservant variety, so we also light a menorah for a few nights of Hanukkah.

    About the only thing I’m both serious and consistent about is getting gifts–1-2 big items to surprise the sig o, 1 gift each for extended family and close friends. Xmas day is spent with family, and in recent years it’s become tradition to meet friends for beers late in the evening, after family obligations are over.

    Overall, I tend to shift between nostalgia and melancholy over the holidays. Sometimes I still find myself mourning the loss of religion, which separates me from my family emotionally and compounds the physical separation of living far away from them.

  8. 8

    Wasn’t a fan of Christmas when I was Christian, and I’m not now either. People should keep cool-looking lighting year-round.

    I celebrate (show up) with my family, as it’s one of those occasions when people get together. (Given health and work issues, and bits of family celebrating with their other families, these things do tend to be rescheduled and may fall far from the actual date of the holiday. Just had “Thanksgiving” last Saturday.)

    Otherwise, I couldn’t give a damn, and probably wouldn’t even know what day it was if people didn’t make a huge whoop-ti-do out of it. Which is exactly how things went when I lived far from the rest of my family.

    So, what, exactly, does one “celebrate”? Or is this just the loose definition of the word in use here?

    Whatever, it baffles me as well when Christians can’t grasp that non-Christians would do a Christmas thing. Probably a bit of overlap with the people who get pissed off that some group or other doesn’t particularly observe Christmas.

    And most of the people who want to demand Christmas be Christian are so only reactively. Otherwise, they don’t seem to inject much Jesus into the equation at all. Those that fit all three descriptions are hypocritical wanking douchebongs.

  9. 9

    The only way you could tell we weren’t Christians is the conspicuous lack of Jesus-y bits on our X-mas tree (save for a few cherished heirlooms that remind us of loved ones gone). I put up a fairly elaborate Christmas village I rescued from my moms basement. We buy a real tree. We sing carols to the kids at bedtime… some of them (gasp) religious (my wife grew up in the church choir.)

    One unique celebration we have is for the winter solstice and was invented from whole cloth by the oldest Hellion. On the longest night of the year we gather round the table and have a special Breakfast for Dinner feast to honor the turning of the season.

    Here’s my xmas post from last year on my poor neglected blog…

  10. 10

    I might tolerate the last three months of the year better if it weren’t one miserable repetition after another of the same fifteen or twenty songs everywhere you go. Well, that and the incredible pressure to spend money on worthless crap.

    But mostly it’s the music. Given that some Christmas music is actually really good, I get pissed off that I’m forced to spend three months hiding out from the crap and end up hating the occasional good stuff as a side effect. As much as possible we plan to do all of our shopping in bulk during early October, with nothing besides milk runs for perishables until January.

    And then, during the last week before it all blows over, I head up to the mountains and do ski patrol. The woods and snow are silent, the mountains are beautiful, I get to help people and give the other patrollers time with their families, and there’s no damned music!

    Now that there’s a good Chinese restaurant in Springerville we can even have a good peaceful dinner. Only problem is breakfast on the 25th, and that’s solved by scoring pastries the day before.

    Life is much better lately, though, with in-car CD players and (finally!) Phoenix has a radio station with a “no Christmas music, ever” promise.

  11. 11

    My family is a mix of Christians, deists, and atheists. We put up a tree, bake cookies, and hang mistletoe. On Christmas Eve, presents go under the tree and “Santa” fills the stockings – the older generation fills the younger generation’s stockings, and vice versa. We listen to carols; I particularly enjoy Lovecraftian carols.

    Even though some of us are Christians, the most religious part of the holiday is the nativity scene that I jealously guard. It was my favorite part of the holiday when I was a child, and I staged the whole story. Mary and Joseph start out on the opposite side of the shelf from the stable and move closer each day, while the wise men mind their own business on the other side of the room. On Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph arrive at the stable; on Christmas Day, baby Jesus and the Star of Bethlehem appear out of nowhere and the wise men start their journey, ending on Three Kings Day. I maintain the tradition even as an adult because it was such a happy part of my childhood.

    My dad’s family is Irish Catholic and I was raised on stories of saints and fairies. Even though I don’t believe in either anymore, I still treasure both as part of my childhood and my family’s heritage. All of my loved ones, Christians, deists, and atheists, celebrate the holidays as a time of love and family.

  12. 12

    I avoid shopping malls as much as possible to avoid having Christmas music ruined. My parents took the kids to see Nowell Sing We Clear every year, it’s a folky eclectic mix of old-timey Christmas and Yuletide music, complete with Mummer’s play. I have a soft spot for it and it’s not found much in the mainstream so I still enjoy it. My family know I’m an atheist, but then nobody in my immediate family except my grandparents are explicitly Christian, just a mix of deism and agnosticism, so our celebrations have never been overtly religious. Nowell Sing We Clear always have half of their program devoted to pagan music only, and label it as such, so I never quite got the message that Christmas is only for Christians. To me, it’s just celebrating that we’ve reached the winter solstice, we’ve made it through another year, and it’s time to get together with family, eat, drink, and be merry.

  13. 13

    Australian here. Until recently, I’ve celebrated the end of the year in the same method that USians celebrate Thanksgiving: Eat, eat, eat some more, watch some sport, grab some left-overs during the evening and generally guts myself rotten while lazing around in the company of family doing the same thing.

    That’s probably not on the cards this year, so it’s mostly about heckling the street preachers who know neither their own material nor their audience. That, and avoiding shopping centres like they’re filled with zombies.

  14. 14

    โ€œYouโ€™re an atheist? Oh, you must be lonely and miserable during the holidays.โ€

    When somebody says that to me, I tell them I feel exactly the same way as they do on March 24th when they are NOT celebrating Rama Navami (which honors the the birth of the Hindu god, Rama).

  15. Red

    I will try to do a meal (including wine and a good desert), and I’ve ordered a duck from a local farmer for the main course again this year. I’ll also try to borrow a DVD from the library. There’s a wreath on my apartment door; I like the greenery and the cyclic implications of the wreath particularly (seasons/solstice). For years, I’ve been meaning to get some of these battery-powered candles (http://www.herringtoncatalog.com/hs384.html) for my windows; I really like the whole “better to light a candle than curse the darkness” notion, and I think of the candle as symbolic of human intellect and invention and the triumph of both those things over every kind of darkness. I’ve also done the more usual parties and cards in the past; as has been true for some years now, my celebrations are curtailed by the small size of my budget (I’ve been scraping by on a survival job for nearly five years now, like too many people). This is why so many of my comments are hedged.

  16. 16

    I love decorating for the season. In the last 10 my decorations have shifted to the pagan elements exclusively. (Tree, holly, mistletoe, deer). We celebrate Chanukah if my daughter and her family are with us when it happens, we celebrate the Solstice with a good meal and candlelight and we celebrate Christmas Eve and Day with lots of food and the family that can make it .

  17. 17

    I just LOVE christmas.
    Always have. It was always a magical day (christmas eve, to be exactly) without any Jesus or even Santa at all.
    I’m an atheist by birth, so there was never a religious aspect to out celebration at all.
    So, what do we do:
    It started a week ago with the advent calendar that has 24 little surpises for the kids.
    And we’re making lots of cookies (and eat them. )
    On christmas eve in the morning we’ll put up the tree and decorate it.
    It MUST NOT be decorated before christmas eve. In the afternoon we’ll stop by my gran and afterwards at my in law’s. Then there’ll be presents and good food at home.
    On Christmas day we’ll go to Mr.’s aunt and meet the whole rest of the family there and on the second day of christmas parents and grandparents will stop at out place for cake and coffee.
    Then I’ll be dead.
    So, what’s the important thing:
    Spending time together. We see most of the people throughout the year, but on christmas we see them in big groups together.

  18. 18

    I loathe Christmas too. The nominal occasion, i.e. the alleged birth 2000 years ago of son-o-god by parthenogenesis, is of course risible. The forced optimism and good cheer is emetic, and the consumerism masquerading as the “spirit of giving” is worthy of outrage. OTOH, I sort of like the lights. They brighten the gloom of the winter solstice.

    What do I celebrate? Sol invictus! Not the official sun god of the later Roman Empire, but the soon-noticeable lengthening of the daylight hours, and the anticipation of spring.

    I’ll continue to travel to my hometown, to visit my family. I’m glad I didn’t miss my Mom’s last Christmas, and I don’t want to miss my Dad’s either. While I’m there, I’ll revisit a few scenes from my wasted youth, and indulge in a little socially-sanctioned nostalgia. Hey, it comes but once a year 8^|.

  19. 19

    I’m not lonely and miserable during the holidays — I’m busy. Christmas falls on a Tuesday, and I’ll treat it like just another day, and go to work. As an atheist, I find nothing to celebrate at “Yuletide” — it’s not the birthday of anyone I know, and most of the aspects of the holiday that aren’t Christian are vestiges of various pagan religious traditions that are than Christianity, but no less irrational and uninviting. I haven’t kept any part of the Christmas holiday since 1984, and I don’t feel deprived at all, any more than I feel deprived because I don’t celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Diwali. (Or Eid al Adha, if it hadn’t fallen at the end of September this year.) It’s just one more festival that speaks to others, not to me.

    On a related note, I think many atheists and humanists underestimate how damaging it is when we reply to a Christmas question by insisting, “I celebrate too.” Some of my most productive conversations with a Christian have truly *begun* when I assured them that for me, Xmas is just another day. Often I get the sense that the other person has just the first person they could truly take seriously as an atheist. That suggests that when we scramble to emphasize our “me-too” Solstice and HumanLight observances, we undercut our credibility and make ourselves look like hypocrites who lack the backbone to pass up a party on principle. I think unbelievers would have much to gain by being more visibily and sincerely non-participants each time the Christian birthday base rolls around.

    Tom Flynn, author, “The Trouble with Christmas” and editor, FREE INQUIRY magazine

  20. 20

    Light fires for the solstice! I like fire. I like astronomy. It seems appropriate to light fires on the longest night of the year. Yes, I practice fire safety. ๐Ÿ™‚

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