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‘No God’ Doesn't Mean ‘No Christmas’ For All Non-Believers

“My lack of belief has little impact on my observance of holiday traditions."

Whether celebrating, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza—or maybe “Chrismukkah”— ’tis the season.

Even for many atheists.

Absence of faith in God does not mean cultural holiday celebration is necessarily lost.

“My lack of belief has little impact on my observance of holiday traditions,” says 31-year-old Temecula resident Adrian Flores. “While I do not mark the birth of a religious figurehead or revel in the pagan rites that served as the figurative headwaters for modern-day Christmas, I do treasure the familial sentiments and warm traditions this season brings.”

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center and released in October, more than 13 million, or 6 percent, of Americans describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, and an additional 33 million people, or 14 percent, say they have no particular religious affiliation.

That 20 percent of America is a large slice of the shopping-season pie, and that could be a reason why so many retailers replace “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Chanukah” with the politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Nowadays, references to Christmas seem to have more to do with the bottom line — “Save 50% through Christmas Eve” or “2-Day Shipping: Get It There By Christmas” — than wishing good cheer.

The shift in retail marketing strategies over the last 20 years suggests corporations aren’t counting non-believers out of the biggest sales month of the year, and for good reason.

“Exchanging holiday gifts and merriment is just as important to me … as it surely is to someone doing the same out of religious faith,” Flores confirms.  

Fountain Valley resident Jeffrey Isbell, 59, agrees the holiday season is a special time of year. Raised a Protestant Christian but now an atheist, he still celebrates many of the traditions of Christmas. Afterall, exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees and waiting for Santa Claus to arrive aren't bound in religion.

“It is a whimsical time. (As a child) I thought ‘The First Noel’ was a pretty song, and I think it’s pretty now,” Isbell said. “However, (Christmas) is more of a cultural experience for me, rather than a religious one.”

Isbell says that while holidays like Christmas and Chanukah are based on religious faith, the true meaning is not always as clear on a societal level.

For Flores, the meaning of the holidays is based in what some may consider very Christian ideology: “Togetherness, rather than divisiveness," he said, "is the truest testament to the strength of family and a powerful statement of the meaning of the holiday season."

Paul Webster December 24, 2012 at 06:08 PM
The traditional origin of the word "holiday" was "holy day." Not make-up-whatever-you-want day. The original meaning of the act of taking something and deconstructing it from its meaning and turning it into something quite opposite is "perversion." The case being made is that a traditional holy day is not holy at all and, therefore, I can participate in the traditions of the holy day as I see fit. I can pick and choose not only the traditions but their meanings. This is, on its face, absurd. Your reasoning, Ms. Sharfner, is so indefensible that it is embarrassing. Might I suggest that you simply say "I like giving and getting gifts, the smell of pine trees, and twinkly lights." Don't undermine other's beliefs and traditions simply because you are ignorant or choose not to believe their meaning. Oh, and for those who misuse the word intolerant, tolerance requires conflict and disagreement - not agreement and acquiescence. Don't call people intolerant because they disagree. Use the word correctly by calling people intolerant those who do not even allow dissent.
Just a concerned citizen December 24, 2012 at 08:03 PM
Well Mr. Webster, It seems you believe your surname to be synonymous with your possible distant deceased relative who may have authored a certain text of definitions. Well, I shan't be so mollified by the eponymous and give you some in return. Tolerance, or any other noun, doesn't require the antonym so much as it does define it. If one had conflict and chose to be intolerant then does that, in fact, negate tolerance? It would seem to be that tolerance is better defined by it's effect rather than it's cause. If one has a different or opposing viewpoint, tolerance may be shown by acquiescing to the argument and intolerance shown by refusing to validate the negative. This has nothing to do with allowance or permission - only to displayed attitude. If you feel that Ms. Sharfner's editorial so undermines beliefs and traditions then those beliefs and traditions must be so very weak to be unsuited to such a weapon as ignorance or free will.
Sharon Glassman December 24, 2012 at 08:14 PM
I agree with Paul Webster 100% I am offended at the way Christians celebrate Christmas. The way they have adopted so many pagan practices and Baby Jesus is left cold and unswaddled on the side of the road. I refuse to participate in any of the "Happy Holiday" because it is a sick bastardization of a religious holiday. And the more Christians forget about Jesus the better things are for the retailers. People say "Take what you like from the holiday and leave the rest. It's all what you make it." I do not "take what I want" from Ramadan, I don't "take what I want" from Kwanzaa, I don't "take what I want" from Hanukkah, and, quite frankly, there is nothing that I want to take from Christmas. Don't try and fool yourself into thinking that if you only "take what you want" you are not participating in a religious holiday. And the way people lie to their kids about a mythical fat guy flying around in a sleigh is appalling. They say that "Santa was a real guy back in the day." Ha! Don't people see that Christmas is a giant marketing ploy being shoved down their throats? Don't they see all of the suicides during this time of year? All of the sadness and loneliness? Christmas is the most pathetic religious holiday there is.
Komfort December 24, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I agree with Sharon 100% We should get rid of the homo"pride" marketing scheme that leads to so many deaths. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth What is with these cults?
Al Shur December 24, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Being a Non-Believer and celebrating the Christmas and other holidays at this time a year is not hypocritical. In fact, Humanists celebrate the joy that is humanity, this time of year, or any time of year! A Humanist Code of Ethics: Do no harm to the earth, she is your mother. Being is more important than having. Never promote yourself at another's expense. Hold life sacred; treat it with reverence. Allow each person the dignity of his or her labor. Open your home to the wayfarer. Be ready to receive your deepest dreams; sometimes they are the speech of unblighted conscience. Always make restitutions to the ones you have harmed. Never think less of yourself than you are. Never think that you are more than another. ~Arthur Dobrin
Things I Learned December 24, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Or it could just be a really really good editorial.
Sharon Glassman December 24, 2012 at 08:57 PM
I believe I will have another glass o' wine.
Michael Gerzen December 24, 2012 at 09:23 PM
the was is not memorialize the people who died are
Michael Gerzen December 24, 2012 at 09:28 PM
I think we all need to remember that the United States was formed with the Christian Religion, the Ten Commandments, In God We Trust & our founders not all Christians meant it to be that way.
Sarah Riccitelli December 24, 2012 at 09:32 PM
I agree w/Al. Christmas is a time for family & community. Celebrate however u want, whether that's giving & receiving gifts or giving them away to charity. Also, on a side note, Santa Claus was a real person around the 13th century, named St. Nicholas. He's among other things, the patron saint of children. As a matter of fact, the original title of Clement Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was "A Visit From St. Nicholas." St. Nick was obviously co-opted by corporate marketers. Just letting you know.
Sharon Glassman December 24, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Well Michael, I suggest you get out your Bible and read it because Jesus would be turning over in his grave right now if he saw the way YOU Christians celebrate his birth...oh wait...no grave. Hmmmm... P.S. An American history lesson might be useful for you too.
Michael Gerzen December 24, 2012 at 09:39 PM
well please update me on my history & share your judgmental feelings about people you do not know
Michael Gerzen December 24, 2012 at 09:42 PM
St. Nicholas did deliver gold & presents but did it all year long & was in the 4th century. Thank you for remembering him though.
Yvette Rhea December 24, 2012 at 09:59 PM
If you celebrate Christmas, you celebrate Pagans and Winter Solstice. Whether you realize or not. Whether you like it or not. Without Pagans, there would be no Christmas in December or Christmas trees and wreaths. Just saying...
Yvette Rhea December 24, 2012 at 10:05 PM
I've got actual quotes from the founding fathers that says otherwise.
Yvette Rhea December 24, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Penny, perhaps you should stick to advent then so you are not seen as a hypocrite.
Jane Tanaka MD December 24, 2012 at 10:09 PM
When I was little, even though I was raised Buddhist, I was encouraged to read a children's Christian Bible by my parents. One Sunday our Reverend Ohara announced that we would not be having Sunday School the next week... Why?. Because it was Christmas, and he understood that we all celebrated at home with our parents, even though we are Buddhist. In more recent times, there have been Buddhist ornaments for evergreen trees , either to celebrate Boddhi Day (the day Siddartha became enlightened, also in December) or to symbolize acceptance of Christmas of and celebration with Christians . Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!!!! Respectfully, Jane Tanaka MD
Penny King December 24, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Wow Yvette. I'm sorry you have such a huge chip on your shoulder. I criticize no one for their beliefs, and I expect the same courtesy in return. Sad.
Susan Willhoit December 24, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Just the same way you justified getting paid on Veteran Day. How many grave sites of our fallen military did you visit on Veterans Days and/or how many Veterans in hospitals did you visit, and/or how many of your friends did you wish "HAPPY VETERANS DAY" to. "Happy Veteran's Day" is an oxymoron. I'm not an Atheist but I'm constantly amazed at how well so many Christians choose to practice "judgement" rather than the "love" that Jesus taught.
LaDawn Jung December 24, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Christmas is not Christmas unless you know what the meaning is. There is a level of personal meaning when Jesus is accepted as there is a relationship given to the believer thru the Holy Spirit that bring the true joy of Christmas. I Corinthians 2 explains it well....That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual[g] can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For, “Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?” But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.
Michael Gerzen December 24, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Please post one
Just a concerned citizen December 24, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Though he did so as Governor of Virginia, during his Presidency Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and thanksgiving. In a letter to Samuel Miller dated January 23, 1808 Jefferson stated: “ But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting & prayer.”
Just a concerned citizen December 24, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT., Jan. 1, 1802
Mike G December 25, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Dyslexic insomniac agnostics stay awake nights wondering if there really is a Dog! Stop bitching, whining, pissing and moaning. Share some Holiday cheer. We have the entire rest of the year to be assholes to one another. Merry Christmas (or whatever you prefer call the season), to all.
Sharon Glassman December 25, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Nothing says Christmas like the hypocrisy of Christians. Cheers!
Michael Gerzen December 25, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Sharon Merry Christmas & I hope you find time to enjoy the time & Mike G. I do understand but do not lower your self to try to bring them up.
Donald Davis December 25, 2012 at 04:57 AM
We are memorializing those that fought and died for our country. Whether you are Christian or not, they died fighting for your right to believe how and when you want. Unfortunately, the current politicians want to do away with these rights. All I have to say is Merry Christmas.
Nickolas Furr December 25, 2012 at 05:44 AM
And try this one on: "In God We Trust" was never part of American history - at least not until 1956. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-eisenhower-signs-in-god-we-trust-into-law
Ed Sorrels December 25, 2012 at 07:02 AM
Christmas for me mean's rememberance, Of Christmas's past and in remembering I stop for a moment to send a christmas wish and a prayer to those that find themselves in some far away God forsaken place where this holiday isn't even celebrated, May they soon be back hoime with loved ones, Safe and whole and enjoy Christmas with family and friends as it was meant to be So Fromn an Old Marine, MERRY CHRISTMAS, AND GOD'S SPEED HOME !
Maria Rosaria Lucchi December 25, 2012 at 11:53 AM
So there are those who believe in a God who becomes incarnate: the Triune God for the Christians (who don't celebrate religiously together), the god of the Hindu Triad. Vishnu (who incarnated many times, the most perfect Krishna - celebrated in Summer) The Muslins believes in a great prophet, Jesus, Issa, born from the Virgin Mary- Mariam. There are whose, who doesn't believe in any God,( or only one, nor triune, nor polytheistic) :, they believe in "God- Quattrino." in Itanian "quattrino" means penny, but it can be written as God- 4une) Merry Christmas!

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