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Atheism, Holidays and Rituals

Questions, Problems, Advice


Atheists spend quite a lot of time discussing religion and deeper questions of whether or not there is any rational justification for believing in gods. However, there are also much more practical issues which merit close discussion. One issue which affects pretty much all atheists is how, or even if, they might celebrate local religious holidays (or secular holidays with an important religious component).

It might seem obvious to say that if you no longer adhere to a particular religion, and in fact even regard the entire system to be a mass of superstition, then it would logically follow that you would also not observe the relevant holidays. Some atheists do take this position, but I think that the matter is a bit more complicated. Many, albeit not all, religious holidays are a great deal more on both the individual and the social levels than simply acknowledging religious beliefs.


What are Holidays and Rituals?
Holidays can serve to form a connection to your own past by evoking memories of past celebration. Holidays can form and reinforce connections with the friends and family with whom you celebrate. But are holidays exclusively for religion and theism?

Revealing Atheism On Holidays
Perhaps a core issue which will influence all others is whether or not those around you even know of your atheism. If they do, then they will be aware of the fact that you may feel, at the very least, uncomfortable or uninterested in the more religious aspects to the holiday season. If they don't, should you tell them now, or keep quiet for the sake of family harmony?

Families and Holiday Traditions
Perhaps the biggest loss in not attending religious ceremonies at a church and not participating in religion-themed rituals is the loss of joint family activities and the diminishing of a family tradition. What should you do - should you go to church with your family or should you insist on staying home while everyone else goes out?

Atheism & Saying Grace
A common tradition among many religions is to say some sort of thanks to their god for the food which people eat. As with participation in holiday services at churches, people who might otherwise never bother with "saying grace" the rest of the year can suddenly feel the urge to do so during the holidays in front of the rest of the family. This might occur either when you are visiting relatives in their homes, or even when they are visiting you in yours. What do you do?

Atheism & Celebrating Holidays
Should you participate in acknowledging, much less celebrating, any aspect of a religious holiday? If a holiday has no other aspects to it but religion and religious ritual, there are few opportunities for atheists to participate - but should you try anyway?

Alternative Holidays for Atheists?
A question which faces many atheists is whether or not they should avoid prevalent religious holidays and instead adopt their own holidays. Do you think atheists should create their own holidays, or would that simply be pointless?

Finding Meaning in Holidays
The way in which an atheist might best approach the question of religious holidays and the creation of new atheist holidays is to ask: What might this mean to me? Are you going to let Christians "win" by allowing them to decide what holidays like Christmas mean to everyone else, or are you willing to stand up and decide what it means for yourself?

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