Guest Author - Alicia Soueid
The topic of government-sanctioned Christian holidays is always a touchy one for atheists, not to mention for followers of other faiths. Although most atheists accept that Christianity is the majority religion "in" this country, we don't particularly like being told that it is the religion "of" this country.
All the same, we’re not anarchists, and we can’t blame Christian celebrants for wanting to spread the cheer. One way or another, we have to make our own peace with these omnipresent religious festivals. For some of us, this means treating the holidays like any other day. For those of us with Christian family members, however, ignoring Easter or Christmas altogether is not always an option.
This often means finding a way to participate in something that has more or less become an American holiday without compromising our own beliefs. Obviously we’re not going to attend midnight mass or sunrise services, and forcing us to recite scripture would no doubt result in discord, if not outright rebellion. So we often find it easier to embrace the various non-religious images and icons associated with Christian holidays. Rather than waging a war on a publicly celebrated Christmas or Easter, we use Christmas trees and Easter bunnies as tools of peace.
This may seem ironic given that Christmas trees and Easter bunnies were passed down to us by our pagan ancestors. When Christians and atheists come together to celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps it is the pagans who have the last laugh. Nevertheless, it is that very hodge-podge of symbolism and meaning that makes it easier for atheists to take part in the holidays alongside Christian friends, neighbors, and relatives.
No doubt some Christians dislike seeing their holidays watered down by non-Christian symbolism and excessive materialism. On the whole, atheists might tend to agree. We have the same love-hate relationship with conspicuous consumption as people of faith do. But so long as Christian holidays are celebrated openly and publicly, with holiday paraphernalia in stores and offices for weeks on end, non-believers will be forced to find their own holiday traditions. For better or for worse, a holiday that is celebrated openly belongs, in part, to all of us.
In spite of our differences, both atheists and theists ultimately regard Christmas and Easter as opportunities to spend time with loved ones, to give thanks for our health and prosperity, and to celebrate with gifts and a hearty meal for all. Although we may not see eye to eye about whether Jesus or axial tilt is the reason for the season, we can at least agree to pass the mashed potatoes.