Over the weekend, I read an article in my local newspaper entitled “Tough to Be An Atheist at Christmas.” It was about some individuals who seemed to struggle with how to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The comment one of them made was that “All the planned activities at this time of year revolve around the church.”
Of course this is because the Christians claim this holiday to be their own. However, celebration of this time of the year dates back much father than Christianity. In fact, many of the popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. For example, erecting the Christmas tree is actually a pagan tradition that commemorates the Winter Solstice.
Christians tend to claim December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birthday even though many scholars have pointed out the more likely date was in April. The December date was actually the time of a Graeco-Roman (pagan) festival.
Interestingly, some early Puritan Christians (including those who fled to America) recognized the pagan influence that permeated Christmas and sought to remove it. They considered it “a popish festival with no biblical justification” and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior (from Wikipedia). Of course, they didn’t succeed.
Probably the biggest controversy that encompasses this time of year is centered in the seasonal greeting. Since Christians claim Christmas as their exclusive holiday, many are offended by those who prefer to use “Happy Holidays” to express wishes for the season.
Personally, I find it disturbing that atheists, agnostics, or any person of non-Christian faith should be criticized (or even ostracized) because they do not accept this December holiday as exclusively Christian. The choice to honor Christmas as a religious holiday, or to see it as simply a seasonal day of celebration, is an individual decision and should always be respected as such.