"Editor's Note: During the Holiday Season, the Traveler is inviting students to share stories about their seasonal or religious observances.  This is a personal letter, from a student, explaining the history and significance of Christmas as celebrated by many in the student body.  If you would like to submit a contribution about a holiday, its history, or how it is meaningful to you, please write traveler@uark.edu."

As the holiday season approaches, many families will get together and celebrate holy days. The Christians celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, and people of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukah for eight days. It seems almost every major faith has some sort of celebration during the months of December and January, but what does someone with no faith do during this time?

Atheism in the United States is growing quickly with the younger generations growing up and older generations starting to pass away. In 2000, 52 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestants and only 8 percent as having no faith at all, according to a Gallup poll. In 2012, 41 percent of Americans identified themselves as Protestants and 14 percent  as having no faith at all.

As an Atheist myself, holiday seasons have always been an awkward time for me. Whether it’s people asking me to join them at church or just getting blessed more than usual. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with getting blessed, I just never know how to respond. When getting asked to go to church and responding with “I’m an atheist” usually just gets me invited more. 

I did take up a friend’s recent offer to go to church and listen to the pastor speak about the power of Christmas.The pastor talked about how Christmas even gets people who don’t believe to sing along to hymns praising Christ or nonbelievers even celebrating Christmas.

Soon after hearing this, it got me thinking about my family and what we do during the holiday season and why we do it. I was born into a Catholic family, baptized and kept in the church until I was about eight or nine. My family left the faith, but we have always celebrated the holidays.

My family would never go to church on Christmas morning or attend midnight mass, but we would set up a manger scene on our counter every year. It soon dawned on me what Christmas has become to my family and me: it’s nothing more than what I like to call a “culture holiday.” We don’t celebrate Christmas because the son of god was born that day. We celebrate it because our nation does.

Holidays are always evolving. Christmas itself started off as a pagan celebration of the winter solstice. When Christian missionaries came to Europe in the early centuries, they found it easier to convert people if they adopted certain traditions of earlier faiths. The Bible never says when Jesus was born, but we still celebrate his birth on the 25th of December. Likewise, Easter also began as a pagan tradition. Easter used to be a holiday for fertility, with that holiday’s symbol being a rabbit.

Recently on the news you hear about the “war on religion,” how Christmas is losing its religious meaning and becoming more for profit. The way I see it, it’s just another transformation of the holiday. I don’t see the holiday times as a time to praise god, and if you do, there is nothing wrong with that. I just see it as a time to be with friends and family, eat good food, love one another and, of course, receive and give presents.

(1) comment


Describing an atheist as having no faith isn't accurate. An atheist has an active faith that there isn't a god or gods.

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