As the New York Times pointed out in this 2006 article, a surprising number of atheists and agnostics in the United States celebrate Christmas:
With all this high-profile atheism in mind, it might come as something of a surprise to learn what sort of tree [Sam] Harris has sitting in his living room right now. Let’s just say that it is not a ficus, that it tapers to a little peak practically begging for a star and that it is currently sporting some lovely ornaments on its branches.
In a recent phone interview, Mr. Harris explained that as a “full-time infidel” these days, with book-tour and speaking duties, he didn’t have time to pick out his Christmas tree personally. And it was really not his idea but a result “of a lost tug of war with my wife,” who likes Christmas trappings and insisted on buying it. But he added that his reluctance “was good-natured all the while.”
In other words, he is a having a (relatively) holly, jolly atheistic Christmas, one that will include presents and a big family party. And Mr. Harris, who was raised by a Jewish mother and a Quaker father, sees no glaring contradiction in doing so, at least not one he feels the need to spend much time thinking about.
“It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world,” he said, “in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”
[Richard] Dawkins, reached by e-mail somewhere on a book tour, was asked about his own Christmas philosophy. The response sounded almost as if he and Mr. Harris — and maybe other members of a soon-to-be-chartered Atheists Who Kind of Don’t Object to Christmas Club — had hashed out a statement of principles. Strangely, these principles find much common ground with Christians who complain about the holiday’s over-commercialization and secularization, though the atheists bemoan the former and appreciate the latter.
“Presumably your reason for asking me is that ‘The God Delusion’ is an atheistic book, and you still think of Christmas as a religious festival,” Mr. Dawkins wrote, in a reply printed here in its entirety. “But of course it has long since ceased to be a religious festival. I participate for family reasons, with a reluctance that owes more to aesthetics than atheistics. I detest Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the obscene spending bonanza that nowadays seems to occupy not just December, but November and much of October, too.”
He added: “So divorced has Christmas become from religion that I find no necessity to bother with euphemisms such as happy holiday season. In the same way as many of my friends call themselves Jewish atheists, I acknowledge that I come from Christian cultural roots. I am a post-Christian atheist. So, understanding full well that the phrase retains zero religious significance, I unhesitatingly wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
Such obliging feelings toward Christmas will undoubtedly serve as another piece of evidence for those like [Bill] O’Reilly and conservative Christians who feel that the holiday has been hijacked — so much so that even atheists are now comfortable getting into the spirit. But to listen to Mr. Harris and other nonbelieving Christmas celebrators, you sometimes get the feeling that their accommodation stems from the fact that Christmas — no matter how religious it still is or is not — has become such a juggernaut that it is simply impossible to ignore entirely. So why not grin, bear it and have yourself a double eggnog?
In past years the Christmas season has been tricky for me to address on the blog. But by golly, if it’s good enough for Harris and Dawkins, it’s good enough for me! So whether you are celebrating the birth of your lord and savior, or just enjoying a time of love, peace, and gift-giving with your family and friends: Secular Pro-Life wishes you all a very happy holiday, and safe travels. We’ll be back on Wednesday.