Whether celebrating, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza—or maybe “Chrismukkah”— ’tis the season.
Even for many atheists.
Absence of faith in God does not mean cultural holiday celebration is necessarily lost.
“My lack of belief has little impact on my observance of holiday traditions,” says 31-year-old Temecula resident Adrian Flores. “While I do not mark the birth of a religious figurehead or revel in the pagan rites that served as the figurative headwaters for modern-day Christmas, I do treasure the familial sentiments and warm traditions this season brings.”
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center and released in October, more than 13 million, or 6 percent, of Americans describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, and an additional 33 million people, or 14 percent, say they have no particular religious affiliation.
That 20 percent of America is a large slice of the shopping-season pie, and that could be a reason why so many retailers replace “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Chanukah” with the politically correct “Happy Holidays.” Nowadays, references to Christmas seem to have more to do with the bottom line — “Save 50% through Christmas Eve” or “2-Day Shipping: Get It There By Christmas” — than wishing good cheer.
The shift in retail marketing strategies over the last 20 years suggests corporations aren’t counting non-believers out of the biggest sales month of the year, and for good reason.
“Exchanging holiday gifts and merriment is just as important to me … as it surely is to someone doing the same out of religious faith,” Flores confirms.
Fountain Valley resident Jeffrey Isbell, 59, agrees the holiday season is a special time of year. Raised a Protestant Christian but now an atheist, he still celebrates many of the traditions of Christmas. Afterall, exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees and waiting for Santa Claus to arrive aren't bound in religion.
“It is a whimsical time. (As a child) I thought ‘The First Noel’ was a pretty song, and I think it’s pretty now,” Isbell said. “However, (Christmas) is more of a cultural experience for me, rather than a religious one.”
Isbell says that while holidays like Christmas and Chanukah are based on religious faith, the true meaning is not always as clear on a societal level.
For Flores, the meaning of the holidays is based in what some may consider very Christian ideology: “Togetherness, rather than divisiveness," he said, "is the truest testament to the strength of family and a powerful statement of the meaning of the holiday season."