As “nones” we get a lot of questions about the holidays…what they mean to us and why we celebrate them.  To give you a short answer, we celebrate Christmas because it is fun and we enjoy traditions with our families and friends.   Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza/etc. is incredibly commercialized and doesn’t really require any kind of religious belief or practice to celebrate during the holidays.  Keep reading to learn more about questions we get asked and how we respond to them.

“Why do you celebrate Christmas if you don’t believe in the miracle of Jesus’ birth?”

I don’t know…why do you celebrate a holiday that doesn’t even belong to Jesus to begin with? Also, IF a historical Jesus existed at all, his birthday certainly wasn’t on December 25th.   There are a couple of primary biblical reasons why we know this.  First, Luke (2:7-8) describes shepherds being in the fields watching their flocks when Jesus was born.  December is cold and rainy in Judea and shepherds would   have sought shelter during the nights in December.  Second, the Bible describes Jesus’ parents (Mary and Joseph) going to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census (Luke 2:1-4).  Again, the Romans did not hold censuses in during this time of year because of the poor weather.  People would not have been able to travel to be counted, so it would have been a pointless effort for the Romans.  There are other indicators in the bible that point to Jesus being born in September based on Elizabeth’s (John’s mother) pregnancy (Elizabeth conceived John in the end of June and was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was said to have been conceived) and birth timeline (since John was conceived in June, he was probably born in March…again, Jesus would have been conceived three months earlier, add six months, and voila, September).

So…why do Christians celebrate Jesus’s birthday in December? Early Christians mocked Roman birth celebrations and dismissed them as pagan practices, which is understandable given the significant Christian persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire through the beginning of the 4th century.  During the 4th century, not only was Christianity legalized, but adopted as the state church of the Roman Empire.  Paganism was tolerated for a short time, but the persecution hand turned on the pagans.  During this time, the Romans further refined Christianity and knew they needed to do something to help with pagan conversion.  One pagan tradition that was adopted by the Nicene Christians was the pagan winter solstice celebration.  Ancient people believed that the reason the days became shorter (until the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice) was because their sun god, Ra, was sick and getting weaker.  But the solstice meant that the days would start to get longer, which meant Ra was finally regaining strength and summer was bound to return.  This why Christ’s birthday (the “son” of god, rather than the sun god) is now celebrated on this date.

Also, we like presents.

“Since you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, why would you put up a Christmas Tree?”

As the early Christians adopted December 25th on which to celebrate the birth of their savior, they adopted other pagan traditions as well. One of these was a Christmas tree. Long before Christianity existed people decorated their homes with pine, spruce, and fir trees.  They also hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows, which was believed to ward off witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illnesses.  Ancient Egyptians filled their homes with green palms during the solstice as a symbol of life’s triumph over death.  The early Romans, who celebrated Saturnalia, and the Druids marked the occasion by decorating their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.  And the Scandinavian Vikings believed that evergreens were sacred to their sun god, Balder.

The modern tradition of the Christmas tree started in Germany in the 16th century.  In America, Christmas trees were widely seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans until the mid-late 19th century. The tradition of putting up and decorating trees to celebrate the solstice, Saturnalia, Christmas, etc. is global and is practiced by people despite their various religious or non-religious backgrounds.  This has nothing to do with Christianity…as with most things, Christians don’t own it and the evergreen-type tree tradition has exactly nothing to do with Jesus. We put up trees (or we don’t) because we want to and we like them (or we don’t).

“Why do you hate Christmas?” or “Why are you waging a war on Christmas?”

We don’t hate Christmas…well, I’m sure some people do, but that has nothing to do with atheism…and there is no war on Christmas, despite what Fox News and pastors would have you believe.  The holiday season…Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, Festivus, Newtonmas, whatever…doesn’t belong to Christians.  It is also a very secular holiday celebrated in various ways by different people.  The Christian perception of a war on Christmas is simply a push for the holidays to be more inclusive of all people and traditions.  While some may have deeply religious traditions, in general the holiday season is extremely commercialized often even by the religious.  Presents, Santa, reindeer, decorations, greeting cards, elves, candy canes, Christmas movies, lights displays, ugly sweater contests, dirty Santas, and cookie exchanges are all examples of holiday commercialization…and there is nothing wrong with partaking in any or all of these things as a religious person or not.


These are just a few examples of questions that atheists and secular people get asked during the holidays but there are so many more.  The important thing to remember is that we can all celebrate the holidays in our own ways, adopting (or dismissing) whatever traditions we choose.  We at Godless Engineer hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

Written by: Kaitlyn Chloe