Why we celebrate Christmas as an atheist family

7 Dec 2014

Christmas time is a magical time in many families. Our family is no different. Yet, it is no big secret that my family is not one for religious celebrations. We do not attend any kind of religious services. I am not baptised, my children are not either. P and I didn't have a religious wedding. So why do we celebrate Christmas? Christmas is, after all, the main Christian holiday.

For our family, Christmas is all about the spirit. Not the holy spirit, but the emotions, actions and celebrations people across the world engage in during that time. Christmas is about the spirit of community, the family time, the music, the food, the lights, amongst many other things. As this article puts it, religious celebrations and religions "are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone". 

In our family, we celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christmas.

We celebrate nature and winter. Our decorations are not about Jesus or angels. We have no nativity scene. Instead we decorate our house with colourful baubles, lights, snow flakes, twine, branches, chestnuts, oranges, etc. We do not have a green pine Christmas tree. We have had simple branches as trees. We currently use recycled wood shaped into a tree form. We collect things in the woods to decorate (pine cones, branches, holly) and enjoy nature at the same time despite the colder weather.

We celebrate our families and each other. Yes, we do buy each other gifts. Santa is alive in our house and he does deliver his fair share of gifts to the children. We don't go overboard but we do like to treat our families when we can. It is a way to show them our appreciation for things they may have done for us over the past year or just to share our love and humour too. When I was a child, my parents used to love playing tricks on us and our first gift was always a joke gift. I will always remember receiving a tube full of balls on a spring (no need to explain what happened when I opened it).

We celebrate food. This is what we do best. I love baking for children, friends and colleagues gatherings (more gingerbread marshmallows?). But food is at its best around the Christmas table. We cook as a family. My mother and husband do the main course. I am in charge of desert and the kids and grandpa prepare the "aperitif". We cook non-traditional Christmas food with local quality ingredients. We never have turkey. Beef Wellington, macarons and dulce de leche cookies spring to mind.

We celebrate others: this year we have taken part in a gift exchange with another child in Australia. We have swapped cards with 3 other families worldwide. I usually go on a clearing up mission just before Christmas too and give away toys and clothes that we don't need anymore.

We celebrate music: P and I will sing our hearts out to Fairytale of New York every morning during breakfast  (while LJ and Baby E look on in shock). LJ will belt out Petit Papa Noël for 50th time that day on her way back from Kindergarten.

We celebrate so much more. In the run up to Christmas, we can be found in the forest, at the Christmas markets, in the woods, at the crafting table, in our kitchen, at the Post Office (expats shipping gifts) or at the dinner table with our families instead of in a church. One is not exclusive of the other, of course. But this is how we like it and Christmas is no less magical in our house.


  1. This is very familiar. I come from 3 generations of atheists and we have always celebrated Christmas. My husband's family are Catholics though he personally doesn't believe so we have adapted our own immediate family celebrations to suit us. However having said that we very rarely get to be in our own home for Christmas, tending to go to my parents one year and his the next, and this year it'll be a French Christmas with the in-laws (which I'm writing about for MKB Christmas around the world.)

  2. Fairytake of New York is the best Christmas song :-)

    I seem to spend half of December queueing at the post office!

  3. I'm a thumping atheist and celebrate Christmas with gusto. I love the nativity because it is so rare that women and childbirth are celebrated. This year the Irish presidential Christmas card has a painting of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Love that! I have a crib as part of our many Christmas decos, and even if we did add an ice cream van to the scene, I still find it spiritual.
    I very much like the joy of gift giving and as a family we still carry on the tradition of going into the city together to go shopping and then for dinner, even though the kids are more or less grown up at this stage.
    On Christmas morning we still all tiptoe down the stairs to see if Santa came (the kids are 17,19,20). Even if I don't believe in God, I do believe in Santa, because every year since they were little it always seemed that there was no possible way I would be able to make Christmas happen, and yet… the magic of it… it always worked out in the end.
    I also celebrate the fasting seasons like lent, because I do think that celebrating and fasting are very natural human rituals that go way back before any christian beliefs.
    I have plenty of religious friends and I find myself drawn to people who live their beliefs and practise what they preach.
    Oh, and one more thing - December is a bleak month, so in my opinion, anyone who refuses to deck the halls in glittery lights and silly stuff is just a downright grump!

    1. I love that you still do the whole Christmas thing with grown-up chidlren. We did it with my parents as young adults too. It was a littel different but still great fun.


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