My Atheist Christmas

I don’t think the word ‘God’ should be in the pledge of allegiance.

You could say I grew up secular, but there was always some religious undertone in my family. It wasn’t really acknowledged until holidays when we’d say grace at meals. Without having any religious foundation things like that just flew under the radar. I thought this was just something that families do.

I didn’t understand the basics of christianity until my teens. As we got older my parents would give my siblings and I a talk that went something like “some people believe this, some people believe other things, some people don’t believe in anything. Pick what’s right for you.”

So now I’m non-religious and I wonder if they were sincere about what they said or if they think that the plan backfired.

As an adult I think about those times in my childhood where religious moments occurred outside my family. Some of it was ok, like being a guest at a friend’s house whose family says grace before every meal, with or without you. Their house, their rules. I don’t recall anybody using it as an opportunity to convert me to their beliefs.

But there’s also the events that occurred at school. Around this time of year all these little bits of religious influence come out at once; the school Christmas plays, the school sing-a-longs. Some of it is the secular Christmas stuff – Santa, reindeer, sleigh rides, potential date rape1. But then there’s the Silent Nights and Away In A Mangers that are slipped into the the more secular carols.

I’ll never forget the time in fourth grade when my class was making Christmas decorations. I had run out of space on my card, so instead of writing “Merry Christmas” I abbreviated it to “Merry Xmas.” My teacher was livid. She yelled at me to do it again, spell it right. I didn’t understand why this was a big deal until my teens.

But what’s the harm? You turned out ok, enough. It’s just some innocent carols and decorations! Yeah, but it all adds up to an appearance of state sanctioned religious ideology, especially to six-year olds. If we’re truly about the separation of church and state, then we should consider that these kinds of activities favor one religion over others and favor faith over non-faith. It’s indoctrination of children2.

Still, I celebrate Christmas — not as a religious holiday, but as an opportunity to be with family and friends. I remember what Christmas was like when I was a kid, and if I were to have kids I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. We’d probably celebrate the Santa story until they got old enough, then I’d lay down the “some believe this, some believe that, some don’t believe in anything” talk and see what happens.


  1. Obligatory mention of Baby It’s Cold Outside
  2. It’s wrong to indoctrinate children! REMEMBER THAT!!