Friday 6 December 2019


The Meaning Of Christmas To An Atheist

A close up photo of part of a Christmas tree, decorated in white lights and red baubles. The focus is on the branches and a bauble on the right, closest to the camera, with a number of fir trees painted on the baulble in gold glitter. The branches, baubles and lights in the distance, on the left, are out of focus.

Photo by on Unsplash.

The Meaning Of Christmas To An Atheist

This was originally posted on The Olive Fox before the online magazine closed. It has been edited slightly for Once Upon a Bookcase.

Christmas is a big deal for me. It’s important, it’s special, and it’s meaningful. As an atheist, the religious significance of Christmas doesn’t hold any great weight, but it’s still a sacred time of year. It has nothing to do with the presents, the big dinner, or the great TV. For me, the meaning of Christmas is love and family.

We spend so much time with our eyes focused on one screen or another, we’re never really completely there when we spend time with anyone. Half of our attention is on the TV, the computer, the mobile, or the tablet. In my family, Christmas is a time for stepping away from technology, and spending time together, properly (well, for my mum and I, at least; my dad and brother do end up back in front of their computer screend these days, much to my disappointment). Even before we had mobiles, back when there was only one TV and one computer in the house, they were both kept off. We would fully immerse ourselves in spending time together on this special day and the one that followed, talking, and laughing, and having fun.

The day starts with cooking Christmas dinner. Most of it was put on the night before, so it’s just finishing everything off. We don’t do anything else until the dinner has been cooked and eaten. When my brother and I were younger, this was the time we would spend playing with the pillow case of presents we found at the end of our bed from Father Christmas. The morning would see us waking Mum and Dad up by taking our pillow cases into their bedroom, sitting on their bed and exclaiming in excitement over what Father Christmas had brought us.

We would always be a little frustrated that we couldn’t open our presents under the tree first thing, too, and it would always seem to take forever for dinner to be cooked, but as I’ve got older, I’ve come to understand and like the way we do things. By waiting until after dinner to open our presents, my parents - and anyone else who is over and helping with the food - are actually able to enjoy seeing their children open their gifts, and enjoy opening their own, without having to quickly put everything aside to carry on with cooking dinner. So now we help with dinner in whatever way we can. I normally set the table; our Christmas tablecloth will be laid, the placemats and coasters dug out, along with the wine glasses, the Christmas crackers, and then trying to do something fancy with the kitchen roll, but failing. It’s one of the best things about Christmas; sitting down as a family at the table for dinner. Generally, for the rest of the year, we’re plates on trays in front of the TV or the computer.

Once dinner has been eaten and the presents are opened, we spend the day playing games; Pictionary, Taboo, Uno, 221b Baker Street, Charades, and so on. We’ll have a break for ice-cream, and then get back to it. The whole day together, having fun and enjoying each other’s company, and doing the same again on Boxing Day. That’s what Christmas is for me – togetherness.

As an adult, I find myself longing for the days when we would have two weeks off from school, and Christmas could last for days, catching up on the Christmas TV, visiting other family, stuffing our faces on Quality Street. A lot of working adults are fairly lucky; they’ll work in an office that will be closed for a certain number of days, or they can use some annual leave to have a week or so off. However, I work in retail, and this isn’t how it works for me. I’ll get a few days off over Christmas or over New Year’s Eve/Day. Never both, and never for long unless I use annual leave, and even then I may not get it, because it’s retail and someone has to serve the customers. Working in retail has shown me more than anything that a lot of people see Christmas in a completely different light to me.

Family, it seems, doesn’t matter as much anymore. Our consumerist society has become obsessed with worshiping money and materialism. For retail companies, Christmas is all about the profits. For consumers, it’s about possessions. Children must have technological presents, of course, because adults and children alike must have the latest computer console, mobile phone or tablet. And let’s not forget the expensive perfume, aftershave, jewellery and clothes, too. And don’t get me started on the sales. Last Boxing Day, I was at work, raging quietly while stickering sale items and serving a deluge of customers who simply had to have any and all bargains within reach. It was the day after Christmas, a day I should have been spending with the ones I hold dear, but instead I was answering a barrage of questions about what items are in the sale and which are now out of stock, and asking, “Would you like a bag?” over and over. Fortunately, I have four days off over the Christmas period this year, and will revel in the time I get to spend with my family.

What will you be prioritising this Christmas; your love of sales or the people you love?

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If you celebrate Christmas, but are an athiest or not Christian, what does Christmas mean to you? How do you celebrate? And what are your thoughts about society being so consumerist, and obsessed with sales? Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. We celebrate Christmas, even though I am an atheist and my husband is a lapsed Hindu. We love decorating the tree, having Christmas food, exchanging presents and playing board games, charades and other silly games. The songs we play at Christmas are all secular, and we love joining in to sing "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" and "I want a hippopotamus for Christmas".