The holiday season can be a minefield for atheists just trying to keep the Yuletide gay without Jesus tagging along too.
The American Atheists organization has drawn attention to the frustrations atheists experience throughout the month of December in a new billboard campaign. But it's an issue that many atheists feel acutely every year.
Atheists under attack: From the pundits at Fox News to the Christmas dinner table, atheists are often barraged with religiosity in the media and in marketing. At the same time, their beliefs — or lack thereof — are scrutinized and used as evidence of a vast conspiracy to destroy Christmas altogether. It is no surprise that a 2014 Pew Research study found that atheists are the most despised and most mistrusted minority in America.
But atheists aren't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, research shows them growing exponentially: A 2013 Pew study found that one-third of people under 30 — and one-fifth of the general population — have no religious affiliation.
These are just some of the hostilities and microaggressions non-believers have to deal with during the holidays:
1. The constant ringing of Salvation Army bells
Those bells! The echoes of the Christianity-infused Salvation Army's ubiquitous Christmas ringers follow you throughout the city streets and the suburban malls. But what's worse is the Salvation Army's homophobic record and history of supporting anti-LGBT legislation, all detailed on the #boycottsalvationarmy hashtag. As ThinkProgress notes, the Salvation Army has taken strides to improve its track record, homophobia and transphobia are still rampant throughout the organization — most recently when a Salvation Army in Texas refused a woman shelter because she was transgender.
2. Having to bite your tongue every time someone says Jesus was born on Christmas...
Atheists have to listen to a host of stories throughout the month, one of the more prominent being that Jesus was born on Christmas. In fact, in order to put the "Christ in Christmas," Christians superimposed the day of Jesus's birth onto the end of December, in part to erase pagan traditions affiliated with the solstice. "The church only settled on a Dec. 25 Christmas in the fourth century," writes Andrew Santella for Slate. "The standard explanation is that the early church conflated its celebration of the Nativity with pre-existing pagan festivals. Romans had their Saturnalia, the ancient winter festival, and northern European people had their own solstice traditions. Among the features: parties, gift-giving, dwellings decorated with greenery."
3. ...and that Santa Claus has a logical place in the Christmas story
Although historians trace the season's most visible gift-giver to a monk named St. Nicholas born around 280 A.D., the modern Santa Claus isn't known as religious figure, which makes it even more frustrating when Christians try to claim him. To make the contemporary incarnation of Christmas, in all its commercial glory, fit with the religious narrative, Christians go to great lengths to meld the story of St. Nicholas with the birth of Christ.
4. Christians' refusal to see how much non-Christian elements infuse "their" holiday
In a desire for complete ownership of Dec. 25 and, arguably, the entire month of December, Christians have erased the historical roots of Christmas traditions, the majority of which actually originated with paganism. For example, the Christmas tree was originally the Yule tree, decorated to celebrate life in Nordic and Celtic cultures. Even decorations like holly and ivy originated in the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia but were later appropriated for the Western holiday season.
5. The sight of nativity scenes everywhere...
The moment in the traditional Christian Christmas story when the three wise men first encounter the baby Jesus has been immortalized in a variety of materials, from plastic to glass to real flesh-and-blood people. Nativity scenes pop up as early as November and can be found everywhere — including public spaces — during the holiday season. These public displays of the baby Jesus are also in certain cases in violation of the First Amendment principle of the state endorsement of religion.
6. ...and the fact that figures in the Christ story are almost always white people
What is perhaps most infuriating about the majority of nativity scenes is that these scenes depict Middle Eastern people as white. We know that Jesus was not white. As Chauncey Devega explains at Salon, "Based on the scholarly consensus, the historical Jesus would be a Middle Eastern Jew of medium, if not dark, complexion." His parents, immaculate conception or not, would not be white either. But a lot of people refuse to hear this fact, instead asserting their whiteness by whitewashing history. In 2013, for example, Fox's Megyn Kelly unleashed a now-notorious diatribe in which she claims that both Jesus and Santa are white.
7. That you are orchestrating a clandestine "War on Christmas"
The greatest war that never was, the "War on Christmas," christened by Bill O'Reilly and his conservative friends over at Fox News, is attributed to atheists. By projecting aggression — here, the fabricated "War on Christmas" — conservative pundits are able to position themselves as victims. Too bad it's not true. Atheists love holiday celebrations with friends and family. There is no war, perhaps best illuminated in this amazing rant from Jon Stewart last year:
8. Being told you shouldn't even be allowed to celebrate Christmas because you have no reason to
Those who only see the "Christ in Christmas" seem to have a hard time fathoming why or how atheists enjoy the holiday season. Of course, who said you have to believe in God to take advantage of that the holiday season has to offer? Gingerbread carbo-loading and eggnog-drinking, shining lights that make colorless winter environments livable and the general increase of good fellowship among humankind -- what's not to love?
9. And, furthermore, you don't deserve a work holiday
Because they don't believe Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, some pro-religious pundits have attempted to argue that atheists should not be given days off from work. This isn't a universal concept of course: In Berlin, city workers who are atheists have just been given their own separate holiday. But it seems obvious that since atheists work just as hard as everyone else 364 days of the year, they deserve a little downtime with their friends and family every 25th of December.
10. Being told, more than usual, that you are a heathen, and hearing "I'll pray for you"
Contrived to make atheists feel guilty and ashamed for not being religious, the "I'll pray for you" isn't quite as effective as its perpetuators might believe, given that atheists do not believe in religion. They are decidedly less concerned by the concepts of heaven or hell, gods or devils, and whether one prays for them or not has no effect on their being.
11. That the media is saturated by religious-themed television shows, advertising and movies
Perhaps at only one other time during the year, Easter, are atheists inundated with so much religious-themed media. While generally innocuous, the pervasiveness of religion can be particularly annoying. This is especially true when noted bigots like Kirk Cameron decide to make movies about "saving" Christmas from homosexual heathens.