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An Atheist Celebrates Christmas

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An Atheist Celebrates Christmas

Finding new ways to embrace a season that has changed its meaning

Commentary by Sarah Henn Hayward | FāVS News

Being a Christian-turned-atheist comes with a lot of difficulties. Fielding disappointed and confused questions from friends and family, finding myself in new territory in my marriage and readjusting many rhythms from my old way of life keep me busy.

Another strange new tension comes around celebrating certain holidays. The first major church holiday that came up after my personal schism was Christmas. The flagship Christian holiday.

Christmas is so commercialized and easily more of a cultural event than a religious event, so I focus on the holiday aspects I liked about it: making Christmas cookies with the kids, decorating the house, driving around to see the lights and attending the holiday events downtown. I leave the religious significance of it all far in the background.

 A Rich History of Symbolism

I’ve done research on the Christian appropriation of the many pagan aspects of the holiday. Learning the symbolism of mistletoe and holly and the lessons of the winter solstice brings new depths to my celebrations. Saturnalia and the traditional yule log are interesting to learn about, and we now include a yule log in our decorations.

While not wanting to become pagan or appropriate traditions that are not mine, I enjoy learning about many indigenous customs and traditions regarding the holidays. Exploring these ancient human practices causes me to feel connected to the symbolism that humanity has long placed on these cyclical events in our lives.

Christmas can be fraught for many reasons. By emphasizing the cheerful lights, festive decorations and symbols and myths that connect us to the greater human family, I use Christmas as a time to bring light into the darkness and hope to despair.

Parts of this essay have been published earlier in my recently-released book, “Giving Up God: Resurrecting a Spirituality of Love & Wonder.”


The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Sarah Henn Hayward
Sarah Henn Haywardhttps://sarahhennhayward.com/
Sarah Henn Hayward is a voracious reader, a deep thinker, a curious learner, a nature lover, a former Christian, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a loyal friend. She is the author of a spiritual memoir, “Giving Up God: Resurrecting an Identity of Love & Wonder,” and two children’s chapter books, “Sedona and the Sloth” and "Boston and the Beaver.” Her newsletter at sarahhennhayward.com highlights thought-provoking books concerning marginalized communities. She lives in Spokane, Washington, with her husband Dan, and their two children.

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Jim Downard
2 months ago

As an atheist raised in a secular family, we always put up a Christmas tree, sang carols etc. Christmas is far too entertaining a holiday to leave it to just Christians.

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