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Ask an Atheist >> Opinion
Question: Do atheists celebrate religious holidays?
The answer is simple: There is no reason not to. Even if I don’t believe in the event being celebrated, many of my family members still believe in it, and I am willing to put aside our differences for the day to spend time with them. Without time off from work and school in observance of a religious holiday, we would almost never have a time when we could all see each other. So spending time together becomes more important than arguing about religion.
I admit that I have it easy since my family is not very religious; conflicts over our distinct beliefs don’t happen often. In general, we atheists aren’t cold, heartless people who trudge through an empty and meaningless life. We like to spend time with our families too, and religious holidays offer the perfect opportunity, even when we don’t practice that religion.
In addition, religiously important days are not the only ones we have to celebrate, and many religious holidays have become increasingly secularized anyway. For my fellow atheists and me, religious holidays now just mean time to spend with our families and the opportunity to eat delicious food. That is a good enough reason to celebrate; we don’t need to add in religious factors to justify a celebration. We may not have religious meaning in our lives, but we can and do create meaning for ourselves. Often, we just come up with secular reasons to celebrate.
This may lead people to question whether our secular adoption of religious holidays is acceptable. Why should I get to enjoy myself on a religious holiday when I don’t share the beliefs of that religion? There is often a feeling of possessiveness over a religious holiday, as if my decision to form my own meaning for an existing holiday is disrespectful — that I don’t deserve to have fun because I didn’t do some specific, tedious ritual.
This is absurd, since so many holidays we celebrate have taken elements from other religions. I have just as much right to celebrate a holiday in my own way as anyone else does, whether or not I am an adherent of that religion. And if they are jealous that I don’t have to sit through a long ceremony, well, I’m not the one making them do it. They are more than welcome to join me in my disbelief.
Kayla Martyn is a third-year biology major.
While I may not believe in the religious messages some holidays purport, it’s important to note that some holidays only started out as religious celebrations. Certain holidays have become so drastically changed over time that it may not matter anymore how, where or why they first began. For example, many of these holidays don’t even take place on the day when they originally started — most Bible scholars, devout Christians themselves, will tell you that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25.
As many of you readers may know, several Christian holidays actually borrow heavily from other religions. In fact, Easter, a holiday centered on Jesus’ resurrection, got its name from Eostre, the Goddess of Spring once worshipped by European pagans. If Christians have no problem celebrating a holiday laced with pagan tradition, then I also don’t have a problem celebrating their holidays with my own beliefs in mind.
Holidays give us excuses to take time off work, meet up with family, feast on homemade meals and exchange (albeit sometimes crappy) gifts. And for that I’m more than happy to publically recognize them. (I may not like those same damn pairs of socks my grandma keeps getting me year after year, but still, it’s always nice to touch base with her and see what she’s been up to.)
Now, my family and I might disagree on the meaning of Christmas (Jesus or presents?), but I’m entirely willing to sit through a short prayer for the sake of the evening going smoothly. There might be a time for a debate over religion, but I hardly think the family dinner table is an appropriate place. My family would much rather like to hear how school’s been going for me, and I respect that.
If I was an atheist living in another country, I would likely be making the same argument. Whether it’s the Hindu festival of Deepavali, the Mexican Catholic holiday Day of the Dead, or the Persian festival Nowruz, all any holiday boils down to is getting together, having fun and taking a look at your culture’s traditions. If I’m not celebrating a holiday, it wouldn’t be because I don’t believe in its religious message — it’s probably because I just think it’s boring.
Jay Grafft is a third-year communication major.
A version of this article appeared on page 12 of the April 9, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.