An Atheist Christmas: Why I Still Jingle My Bells

The past few Christmases have been an uncomfortable and boring experience for me. Let’s be honest, most adults just look forward to the food anyway. Gone are magical Christmas Eves, unable to fall asleep because of the excitement the morning will bring. Gone are amazing toys that Santa somehow knew we wanted. The joy of Christmas faded long before my belief in religion did, but there is something particularly dreaded about Christmas for an Atheist: What do I celebrate?

This is a tricky one, I’ll admit. We all understand that Christmas is supposed to celebrate the birth of Christ and all the wonderful things it brought (Christianity). So how does a non-religious person justify celebrating a religious event? Don’t go to church. There you go, you may now enjoy every other part of Christmas as it has nothing to do with religion (I don’t recall Michael Bublé peering into the manger, crooning, “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…”). The parts of Christmas that I miss and enjoy are quite unrelated to Christianity, so I’ve decided to allow myself to get excited this year. Here are some personal Christmas favourites that I will be enjoying (finally):

  1. Christmas Lights

One of my cherished childhood memories from the Christmas period is driving to Town at night and looking at the Christmas lights. The lights are strung from the tops of street lamp-posts, showing moving images of Santa in his sled or shooting stars that bounce back and forth. Every now and then, there is a message of ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy New Year’. Taking a few minutes to slowly drive under a sky of lights puts you in the mood to enjoy everything around you, simply because you enjoy it.

christmas, light, and tree image


To be fair, I’m always excited about food. But this year I might increase my excitement by cooking my own dish as a contribution to the family feast. Watching others cook is incredibly captivating for me, watching how raw ingredients become masterpieces. While my own creations will look more like ‘painting by numbers’, it will still be a fun way to spend Christmas Eve and get in the mood for food (though, when is this not my mood?).

christmas, winter, and Cookies image

3. Christmas Cards

A heartfelt card is almost a gift itself. I look forward to writing out my feelings for friends and family because the response is usually genuinely thankful. We all know how warm and fuzzy it is to hear how much we’re loved, so I’ve decided to make cards and letters for my loved ones with messages that extend beyond Christmas. It’s always a good time to tell someone that you care, but Christmas feels like a less random time to do it.

festive, gold, and red image

4. Christmas Movies

I remember a time, during end-of-year school holidays, when SABC2 would play Christmas movies almost every day. Other channels would do the same on weekends, with the plots somehow always involving a reluctant adult who finds the joy of Christmas at the end. I know most of these movies are trash, but they still make me feel excited. Excited for what, I’m not sure. That’s the magic of good marketing. So I will be watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and don’t you dare tell me it’s for children.

christmas, grinch, and kiss image

5. Michael Bublé

Nobody can deny that they enjoy his Christmas album. If you claim not to enjoy it, you’re as rebellious as an emo kid in 2009. Here, have a cookie for being special. Who can resist feeling at peace and wholesome listening to ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire’? Of course, Bublé is not the be-all and end-all of Christmas music. His predecessors create a vintage Christmas atmosphere where all is right in the world, because it’s Christmas.

christmas, michael buble, and snow image

Perhaps you’re dreading the debt you will undoubtedly incur from Christmas shopping, or you have anxiety about facing racist/sexist family members. Fear not, for Christmas can be a joyful time for anyone, even an Atheist. Just focus on the parts that make you happy and remember: It’s the most wonderful time of the year.