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December 24, 2015

An Atheist's Merry Christmas

A godless holiday for all the merry atheists.

by Candy Unagi

I’ve been an agnostic/atheist for a decade now and Christmas is still my favorite time of the year. So is Idul Fitri.
I love the traditions and the sense of community this time of year brings. My son and I would put up a tree in our apartment, exchange gifts and have parties, the whole shebang. We would make little angel ornaments out of wooden clothespins and give them to friends and family. ‘Hipster Holiday’ would be the station playing on Pandora while we bake cookies and decorate them with little snowflakes.
On Idul Fitri we would have ketupat (rice cakes), opor and every imaginable dish drowning in coconut milk. We would go to the Embassy celebration with the rest of the Indonesian diaspora, me going for the “elegant and sharia” look in my caftan and high heels and my son running around in his baju koko (Islamic tunic), super cute like all the other little Muslim boys. We would do the rounds to friends and relatives where he would get “salam temple” (end of Ramadan money), which, of course, is always a big hit.
On both occasions we would happily overeat, surrounded by people we love. On both occasions, as well as any other holiday involving a super-natural being, my son understands that it’s a special time to celebrate family and community. His seven-year old mind has no problem compartmentalizing religion and tradition after declaring himself an atheist just over a year ago.
I wish there was a holiday for atheists but there isn’t. I looked up “atheist holiday” and urbandictionary.com says it’s an oxymoron since, “as the sole defining characteristic of an atheist is a lack of belief in god, an atheist holiday would be a celebration of nothing.”

How sad! And how incorrect.
By that logic, atheist holiday is not an oxymoron – every day that’s not a religious holiday would be an atheist holiday! So why can’t we have one damn day that’s just for us? With traditions and rituals and consumerism and little godless cookies and songs about Darwin. Let’s call it Day of Reason.
I’m guessing the reason atheists don’t have a day of celebration is that for ages we have been driven underground. Until now in many if not most parts of the world we are still persecuted as heathens, aberrations of society, sinners who must be exterminated. Hence my need of a pseudonym.
It’s hard to come up with traditions when you are hiding. Imagine a group of people toasting to reason as our faith and the next thing you know (insert extremist group’s name here) comes storming in with sticks and machetes, burning down the house. Then we would be the ones thrown in jail instead of the perpetrators of violence. Yeah, not exactly a conducive environment for festivities.
Even in the US where I live, atheists are wallowing in the bottom of society’s rung. A 2014 “How Americans Feel About Religious Groups’ survey by Pew Research asked respondents to rate each religious group on a “feeling thermometer” ranging from 0 to 100 – where 0 reflects the coldest, most negative possible rating and 100 the warmest, most positive rating. Christians, Catholics and Jews receive an average rating of 60 or higher. Buddhists, Hindus and Mormons receive neutral ratings in the 50s. Atheists receive an average rating of 41, and Muslims an average rating of 40 (sorry Muslims). Note: this survey was done before the Islamophobic insanity unleashed by Donald Trump.
Even the Internet is unfriendly to the concept of an atheist holiday. For years now, there has been a hoax circulating about an atheist who filed a discrimination lawsuit to stop observances of Passover and Easter on the grounds that there were no holidays set aside for atheists. The judge dismissed the case and told the plaintiff that the first day in April has been set aside for those who did not believe in God, citing Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.”
Very funny, religious people.
There is hope however, in the form of a community of like-minded souls. One of them is the Sunday Assembly dubbed “the atheist church”. Its motto is “Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More” and its website describes it as “a network of godless congregations that meet locally to hear great talks, sing songs and celebrate life”.
In the UK where it started, the US and Europe, these groups are able to meet openly, have Facebook pages, hand out pamphlets and advertise on buses, basically everything a religious organization can do. In the US the Sunday Assembly even enjoys the same tax-exempt status as churches and other religious groups.
There are currently about 50 chapters in the US, about 30 in Europe, a handful in Australia and New Zealand and one in South Africa. As far as I know there are none in the Middle East or Asia, at least not openly. There are also a number of other humanist/secularist groups in various countries. So maybe from these assemblies a tradition will emerge, a ritual, a secular holiday! I don’t even mind if we call it Festivus, as fans of the 90s American sitcom “Seinfeld” will remember. A festivus for the rest of us! The perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering!
On this day we will have our own special traditions.
Instead of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer we will watch a David Attenborough nature documentary or old episodes of “Cosmos” and afterwards we will miss Carl Sagan terribly and cry a little. We will volunteer for the homeless and not ask if they have found Jesus. There will be special dishes, maybe spaghetti with monster-shaped meatballs (the Flying Spaghetti Monster, get it?). Children will be given Darwin’s finches collectible figurines and they will come in pretty boxes with a booklet telling a story more mind-blowing than any religious miracle, the story of evolution.
We will sing the Atheist’s Creed, maybe to the tune of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’. We will decorate the house with “La illah” (there is no god) calligraphy instead of “La illaha illallah” (there is no god but God). We will engage in mindful meditation. We will make ornaments in the shape of the Happy Humanist and the Atomic Whirl. We will bake our godless cookies and heathen pies. And we will gather our community, hold hands and send out our intention to the Universe, for a day when Reason prevails and, finally, there will be Peace on Earth.
Candy Unagi is a pseudonym, duh. When she's not pretending to be a Japanese porn starlet, Candy divides her time between work, her ever-curious son, her succulent terrariums and other crafty obsessions, as well as cooking and hosting dinner parties with her boyfriend who indulges her over-the-top thematic table-setting even though it means a lot more dishes for him to wash. Oh, and yoga where her favorite is the corpse pose. Candy is very proud of the fact that after many years in the closet she no longer hides the bacon when her mother visits. Of course Candy is a journalist. She just doesn’t use her real name because she believes in the message not the messenger.