December 24, 2010

I am Not a Pagan Either

pagan symbol

I would guess that most atheists in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, but that would just be a guess. I am not aware of a good representative survey of atheists to back it up. While I do not celebrate Christmas, my reasons for not doing so have little to do with atheism. Moreover, I see no reason to criticize those who do celebrate Christmas, regardless of whether they are atheists. Their celebrations do not impact me one way or another because I do not participate in them. All the same, there is one increasingly popular defense some atheists are giving for their celebration of Christmas that I do not particularly understand.

I am referring to what I'll call the "winter solstice defense" since I am not sure what else to call it. It goes something like this:

Christians stole Christmas from the pagans. It was originally a pagan holiday that had nothing to do with Jesus, and early Christians co-opted it as a way of stamping out paganism.

I do not doubt the veracity of this claim. Christians did co-opt this pagan holiday, but I am not sure how this is supposed to explain anything about why an atheist would celebrate Christmas. What does this even have to do with atheism? At best, it might explain why a pagan would celebrate Christmas. But most of us aren't pagans, are we? As a non-pagan, I'm not sure why anyone would think I'd be persuaded to celebrate a pagan holiday simply because it was a pagan holiday.

If an atheist wants to celebrate Christmas, he or she should do so. Moreover, any atheist who enjoys Christmas should be able to celebrate it without a twinge of guilt simply because they find it enjoyable. Nobody owns this or any other holiday; anybody who wants to celebrate can make it their own. Why are any other reasons needed?