Why An Atheist Can Still Love the Holidays Even Without Religion
This time of year is one that’s important for people of many different religious faiths, but what about if you have no faith at all?
As an atheist, I find Christmas in particular to be one of my favorite times of the year.
Obviously, I don’t commemorate the birth of the world’s savior. I also can’t subscribe to The Festival of Lights. But I do love Christmas and the surrounding months of the year when, in the winter dark, we put up Christmas trees and string lights, and cook up delicious food and just spend time with each other. And yes it’s sentimental, but who says sentimentality is a bad thing? In fact, this sentimental notion is built on a solid kindness. Not my own, though.
My mum died when I was ten years old and we had to rebuild our family around that gaping hole in our lives. My Aunt Kath started inviting me and my dad and my brother around to partake in that side of the family’s Christmas festivities, never asking anything from us in return. That meant so much to me growing up, to have a place to go and be around family, and I remain so grateful for it now. It’s a reason without religious or even spiritual significance, but that kindness she showed us, it touched me deeply. It was profound, and I carry that with me and I always will.
So every year at Christmas time I’m reminded of that goodness, of how people really can be kind, and it makes me want to spread that kindness as far as I can. I think that starts with first acknowledging what you’ve got.
Which brings me to being thankful. I’ve heard it said that you can’t be truly grateful without having God to thank, and so this time of year rings hollow and is meaningless. I rebel against that notion in its entirety. I never needed religion to say thanks. I know how lucky I am. I have people who love me. I have a roof over my head. I have friends whom I adore. I have a job I am enriched by. Of course I have problems, frustrations, and mental health issues. But I remain grateful for this chance at life, and I’m thankful to all who’ve helped me along the way.
Should I be accused of sounding a little too much like a greeting card, I should add here that I’m under no illusions and that I’m well aware that Christmas is not a time of happiness and joy for everyone, and joking aside, I’d hate to contribute to the notion of forced cheer because I know how difficult that can be. At the same time, this doesn’t subtract from my feelings about this holiday period. If anything, it enhances it.
At Christmas and around the holidays, even in the midst of materialism, there emerges a focus on helping others, and I take that opportunity wholeheartedly. I think about children who may not have parents, or those people or animals who might be homeless at this time of the year; I think about people who may have lost someone like I lost someone, and how Christmas can be terribly lonely; I think about how there are elderly people who have to make the choice between food or having their heating on; and I think about these things and I recommit to doing something about them.
Sometimes that means donating money to charity as well as committing to the ways in which I can help people for free through click to donate programs. Other times, it means donating an extra gift or two for children who wouldn’t otherwise get presents. Or even thinking about how I can minimize my impact on the world during this holiday time. And sometimes it’s about volunteering time to help with food drives or collections for at-risk groups like veterans or the elderly.
As an atheist, I’ve often been told that not believing in God strips away a sense of what’s good and bad, that it drains the color out of the world and leaves us cold. That’s not been my experience, and while I’d never want to stop someone with a sincerely held belief from praying or expressing the joy of their faith at this time of year, I also hope that others can realize that for the godless, Christmas and the holidays can mean just as much even when we don’t choose to pray or attend religious services. The sense of goodness and charity that the religious feel at this time of year doesn’t just belong to them, but those without a religion feel it and are moved by it too.
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