For as long as I can remember, Christmas has been a big part of my life. As a child, I recall the excitement of unpacking all the decorations, listening to my mom’s holiday records (everything from Eydie Gorme y Los Panchos to George Strait to Raffi), and sneaking to the tree every night to shake my brightly-wrapped gifts in hopes of guessing what Santa brought me for the year. Christmas Eve (or "Noche Buena" as we call it in Latinx culture) meant gathering with family for lots of yummy food, playing with my cousins, and ringing in the holiday at midnight. The following morning, my brother and I would run to wake my parents, excited to tear into our presents.
Back then, the holiday also had some religious significance for me. We brought out our nativity set yearly and set it underneath the tree, with the baby Jesus tucked in a hiding place until his “birthday” on the 25th. My Catholic grandmother always inquired what I’d asked the baby Jesus to bring me for the holiday. And on rare occasion, we even attended church, which was undoubtedly always the nicest mass of the year.
But through the years, religion took a backseat for me to the point that I now consider myself an agnostic-atheist. I still celebrate the hell out of Christmas, but it’s a bit different these days. If you happen to find yourself wanting to take part in the holiday this year but wondering how to do it as a non-believer, here are a few tips to get you through it:
No Need To Attend Church
While your more devout relatives are busy going to midnight mass (or Christmas morning mass), you have the option of kicking back and relaxing instead. This means you have extra time (and possibly extra, uninterrupted time) to do just about anything else. Curl up on the couch with a good book (or maybe a good podcast), or set yourself up to binge some Jessica Jones (because nothing says the holidays like a dope-as-hell, feminist superhero show!) Plus, at a time when you might have a house full of relatives, it’ll be nice to have the extra down time.
...And No Need To Pray Before Dinner
I’ve been to many a holiday table where we’re forced to sit in silence and listen to someone harp on about all the great things God brought to the dinner table that year (to which I have a tendency to remind folks to also thank the humans who actually cooked and served the food). And while I’m not outwardly disrespectful of someone's desire to pray (because that’s just not cool, and to each their own, etc.), I don’t personally pray before my meal. I’m all about sitting down and digging in, and as an atheist, you can be, too! Just don’t be a jerk and talk or eat while others are praying because, again, that’s not cool.
Nix The Nativity (Or Make It Creative)
Although I don’t believe in Jesus or the Three Kings or anything, I do have a soft spot for nativities. I bought this beautiful, hand-crafted wooden one a few years ago that I do display, but as an atheist, you don’t really have any need to own or display one. Also, I’ve seen a great trend in building your own nativity out of random action figures, Legos; Hell, I've even seen one made out of beer bottles. Make your own nativity scene out of random things from your house. Guaranteed it’ll be way more fun than anything you’d buy at the store. (Or, like I said, you could just skip it. I feel like a lot of actual Christians skip this anyway.)
You Can Still Get A Tree! (It’s Not Exactly A Christian Tradition Anyway.)
If you’re concerned that getting a Christmas tree might mean you’re indulging too much in religious tradition, fear not. The Christmas tree was actually just a tradition the christians stole from other ancient cultures which brought in evergreen boughs into their homes to celebrate the winter solstice. So basically, get one if you want, or don’t. No religious strings here.
...And Decorate It However The Hell You Want
Some folks try to stick to more traditional tree decorations, with a star or angel at the top of their tree. But if you don’t believe in the religious significance of the star (as in, "the star that guided Mary and Joseph to the manger") or the angel (because you don’t believe in angels), you’re free to top your tree with whatever the hell you want. I have one atheist friend who mentioned topping her tree with a Darth Vader helmet, because, you know, Star Wars. And then of course you can always add some ~ super blasphemous~ other decorations to your tree if you feel so inclined.
We Tell The Story Of Christmas (As We Would Any Other Myth)
When you’re a parent raising children without organized religion, you’re bound to get questions about how you explain Christmas to said children. Well, we explain it the same way you’d explain anything else you don’t believe in. One friend of mine mentioned that as she did not grow up Christian, her family would tell her the myth of Christmas, just as they would tell her about Greek and Roman or any other mythology. There are also plenty of non-religious Christmas books for kids that help parents explain the rituals and traditions of the holiday as it is celebrated around the world. We don’t belittle others’ beliefs, but it's completely fine to treat them as fictional stories (which, to us, they are) rather than something based in fact.
The Actual Date Isn’t Exactly As Important
While more devout individuals might not want to alter their plans as far as celebrating Christmas on December 25, atheists don’t mind celebrating any other time that week (or even that month). If you’ve got work conflicts or other things you can’t get out of on the 25th, you won’t be entirely heartbroken if you celebrate on the 26th instead.
Feel Free To Skip Over The More Religious Christmas Tunes In Favor Of Other Holiday Songs
While I’m not against listening to various renditions of O Holy Night and Away In A Manger, these songs aren’t nearly as high on my Christmas mix as, say, John Lennon’s "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)," Ru Paul’s rendition of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues, and "Santa’s Gotta Mullet" by Nerf Herder (which you can listen to above). Seriously, these are just way more entertaining than Andrea Boccelli’s "Angels We Have Heard On High." (I get it, the guy has range, but what a snooze-fest this song is).
Skip Over The Nativity Story For 'Bad Santa'
OK, the Nativity Story actually doesn’t look like it’s all bad (from the trailer) but if you’d prefer to watch some not-so-religious films, as an atheist, you’ll probably do so and enjoy them more. Some of my personal favorites? The Muppet Christmas Carol, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Joyeux Noel (for those who dig war movies, this one is fantastic), Mixed Nuts, Gremlins, Bad Santa (trailer seen above), and my personal (actually not blasphemous at all) favorite: Little Women.
And Finally, Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!
At the end of the day, celebrating Christmas in a secular fashion is almost the same as doing it while Christian (except you don’t talk much about Jesus). A large portion of the holiday is still dedicated to enjoying time (and meals) with family and friends (oh yeah, and presents of all kinds, of course). Enjoy the festivities, my fellow non-believers!