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Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree
December 7, 2008 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Do atheists and agnostics put up Christmas trees?

I was raised in the Christian faith, but consider myself agnostic now. It was tradition in my family as a youngster to have a Christmas tree. As an adult, I have usually done this, in fact, I just put one up in my home today. I'm sitting here wondering... why?
posted by netbros to Religion & Philosophy (78 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, because our cats love it and it's fun.
posted by odinsdream at 11:02 AM on December 7, 2008 [6 favorites]


Yes, because why not? Also, it's a fundamentally pagan custom in origin, so it's really weird that Christians do it, if you think about it.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2008 [16 favorites]


My family was unreligious, but we always celebrated Christmas with a tree and all that jazz. Christmas isn't just about the birth of Christ any more. It's about caring for others, celebration for celebration's sake, family tradition, and consumerism.
posted by puritycontrol at 11:03 AM on December 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Yes. It's pretty and it smells good.
posted by CwgrlUp at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Sure they do. Why? Like you said, it's a cultural tradition. I'd wager that most people who put up Christmas trees don't particularly associate it with being religious. It's fun, especially if you have kids, and it makes you feel like you're part of a larger community. Personally, I don't think it's hypocritical to be agnostic or atheist and still participate in the traditions of the holiday season. I do.
posted by theantikitty at 11:04 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes because it is fun.
posted by k8t at 11:05 AM on December 7, 2008


Because Christmas is not primarily a religious festival for most people - it's a cultural tradition and a family occasion. You can take the birth of Christ thing out of it entirely (that was just superimposed on pre-existing celebrations of the solstice, anyway) and it's still a nice occasion to think of others (the Christmas spirit), give gifts, make kids happy, and see family.

And the songs are nice, too, whether or not you believe the religious message underlying them.
posted by Dasein at 11:06 AM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


sure. I also did go to the church wedding of my best friend. most non-religious folks aren't hostile towards any religion, they just don't care about it. this is not like being a fanatic vegan who runs around screaming 'meat is murder.'
posted by krautland at 11:06 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yup, a Christmas tree is a completely secular* thing in everything but the name, and I'm also seconding Xtrovert: it's actually funny to me that Christians do it.

(Then again, the fact they're celebrating a midwinter Pagan sun-festival when their namesake was probably born in mid-summer is pretty funny too. And then there's Easter! Oy vey!)

(* okay it has some significance if you're a certain kind of pagan.)
posted by rokusan at 11:07 AM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


We do. We usually get a pretty small tree and our Christmas celebrations are a lot more low key than our Christian friends' but we still have quite a few traditions that aren't religious.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 11:08 AM on December 7, 2008


I'm not Christian, but a Christmas tree signals a tradition to me, not a religious holiday. When I see a Christmas tree I think back to my childhood and the fun times that my brother, sister, and parents had together by the fire. If there were any time of year that I really don't parse out what's 'wrong' or 'right' about certain traditional activities, Christmas would have to be that time of year. Maybe it is largely associated with the Christian faith, but I tend to associate Christmas with family, tradition, spending time with loved ones, giving homemade gifts to those who we care about, and peppermint candy canes.
posted by aloneinvietnam at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes. It's pretty. (Although I think we're going to skip this year, because we have new kittens who will undoubtedly climb it, knock it over, etc.)

And you know, the whole Christmas tree thing is much more pagan than Christian. I don't consider myself a Christian, although I was baptised and so forth, but I'm certainly...culturally christian, if you will. I know lots of carols, and like keeping the parts of the tradition that don't require me to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God.
posted by rtha at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008


I do. The christians stole it from the pagans, anyways. It's not like the wise men were hanging baubles from a pine in the manger or anything.
posted by Kellydamnit at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


We do.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008


Aetheist here, and yeah, I'm an absolute Christmas NUT-bar - takes me two days to decorate my house. I do not in any way associate it with religion - for me it is a time to be close to my family, to celebrate another year together, to be giving to and more patient of others, to sit and drink hot cocoa by the tree, bake cookies, etc.
posted by twiki at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008


You must know that the answer is going to be that some do and some don't.

Following a tradition has a powerful effect on many people. It's easy to understand why: if you do something over and over, many memories and emotions get linked to it. So naturally re-doing it will evoke those memories and emotions. So if an atheist grew up with Christmas trees (and if they are associated in his mind with fun memories and feelings), why wouldn't he want Christmas trees in his life?

The specifics of a ritual are largely arbitrary. If your mom and dad raised you to wear a pig mask every second Thursday (and if you enjoyed wearing it), you'll probably want to continue wearing a pig mask as an adult.

I'm a (born Jewish) atheist. I don't have a particular interest in Christmas trees (or Hanukkah decorations), but they don't offend me, either. It's fun to decorate stuff, so I can get into it if friends are doing it, and Christmas trees smell good. I can take them or leave them, which is probably because my family never got into Christmas (nor strongly objected to it). It wasn't a tradition for me. So it isn't now. My atheism has little to do with it one way or the other.

My atheist wife -- who was raised with Santa and stockings and lights and the whole shebang -- loves having a Christmas tree.
posted by grumblebee at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008


Yes, but mainly because my girlfriend and daughter give me no option.

My objection to Christmas trees has little to do with and link to Christianity though: I just think they're a messy hassle. Plus, trees have as little to do with Christ's nativity as eggs have to do with his resurrection, as Dee points out.
posted by lekvar at 11:09 AM on December 7, 2008


Yes, because it's pretty and pagan in origin, so it isn't like a big picture of Jesus weeping blood. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, or whatev)
posted by Grlnxtdr at 11:10 AM on December 7, 2008


I do it, despite never having been particularly religious, because I like the ritual and tradition. My family always did it (again, not terribly religiously) and I associate it with coziness in midwinter. And yes, I do call it a Christmas tree, although I don't invest it with much Christian symbolism (or Roman or German religious symbolism, either).

I know atheists who have advent calendars, too, because they enjoy them. Though usually they grew up in a more explicitly religious family than mine.
posted by hattifattener at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2008


Absolutely. In her perfect world, my atheist mate would have a Christmas tree in every room and one on the front porch for good measure.
posted by jamjam at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't, but I used to when the kids were younger because it was much harder to answer the question, "why aren't we like everyone else, mummy?" I find it a confusing and (for me) empty ritual that results in less space in my small living area. Also, I object to tinsel. And (not enough yet?) the work that goes into making a tree look good to me (limited colour palette, unusual but matching ornaments) is not aligned with my preferences for minimalism, and clutterbusting.

In short, I used to but I don't now because I don't want to, not because it would be hypocritical.
posted by b33j at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2008


Non-militant atheist here. I put up a Christmas tree and even have some angel ornaments on them. I listen to Christmas music (much of it religious -- Kings College choral recordings are so gorgeous). I grew up with it -- even though my family wasn't really practicing religious -- and it's just something I do this time of year. I plan to pass it down to my own kids some day, even though I don't intend to raise them within any religion.
posted by olinerd at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2008


My partner's an atheist, and though I sometimes call myself a chaos magician to piss off square scientists, I'm essentially agnostic, and we have a tree.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 11:13 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


My partner is really into seasonal decorating.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2008


I'm sitting here wondering... why?

Because it's fun, traditional, marks the season, smells good, looks great and reminds those uppity trees who is really in charge.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't. Perhaps because I was brought up Jewish, and that's still a part of my identity, I do look at Christmas trees as Christian, and would feel very weird about having one. I do hang Christmas lights though, enthusiastically.

My wife (who is some kind of non-religious UU spiritual something with a Christian upbringing) does have a small, vaguely tree-shaped wire display piece for hanging ornaments on, and she does put that out around the holidays. I even felt a little weird about that at first, but I got over it.
posted by adamrice at 11:22 AM on December 7, 2008


My husband's an atheist and I'm agnostic, and we always put up a tree.

I've explained Christmas to my five yr old son as a holiday that is more a "Festival of lights". I weave together the many cultural/religious traditions that celebrate bringing back light at the winter solstice. So a lit up tree and lights on the house are part of our culture and tradition, and Jesus has nothing to do with it.
posted by saffry at 11:26 AM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


A "Christmas" tree is an old European symbol of fertility, renewal, and to a certain extent immortality. This use of a "Christmas" tree predates Christianity and recorded history in Europe - the Catholic church felt it was wise to co-opt and Christianize the evergreen rather than suppress such an important symbol.

Here's how the symbolism works. For fertility look at the way a Christmas tree is shaped, and compare that shape (with some imagination) to a woman in a dress (and consider where the presents are). For the renewal and resurrection part of it, an evergreen looks fresh and clean in the winter when the rest of the trees look dead and weary. I guess the fact that this custom spread to regions with year-round greenery is a bit weird, but its a much beloved symbol anyway.

Another reason this custom was retained from pagan times is that pagan holidays tended to fall along the times of important seasonal and astrological events. One of the reasons Christmas was embraced by pagans is that Christmas is celebrated right around Winter Solstice. It is notable that early Christians did not know the date of Jesus was born, so they used a date that roughly matches up with the Winter solstice, which was a time of celebration anyway.

So in spite of the fact that the evergreen was Christianized, it is largely a cultural tradition not a Christian one..
posted by Deep Dish at 11:27 AM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


reminds those uppity trees who is really in charge.

Do what you want with your 61, pal, but hands off mine, OK?
posted by jamjam at 11:29 AM on December 7, 2008


Yes. The tree doesn't have a lot to do with Christianity, and even if it did, it's just fun to do it. There's plenty of arbitrary holidays.
posted by Nattie at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2008


Tangential, maybe, but I'm agnostic (if I have to label it), and have done Christmas trees off and on through the years for many of the reasons listed above, mainly nostalgia.

This year, though, I've decided to light a hanukkah menorah because of the symbolism of survival through and renewal after a devastating disaster. Seems appropriate, somehow, what with the election and all.

Actually, I may do both.
posted by trip and a half at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a third-generation atheist, and we've always celebrated Christmas, with a tree, dinner, music and everything. We leave out the religious elements (no nativity scene or prayers, for instance), but otherwise we have a "typical" Christmas. Christmas does not have to be a religious holiday, and in fact the spirit of Christmas, of family and generosity, is one that should be celebrated regardless of religious affiliation.
posted by wsp at 11:32 AM on December 7, 2008


Yes because it smells nice and is fun. My boyfriend is an atheist and he doesn't even mind singing Christmas carols and going to midnight Christmas eve services- he likes the pagentry, he just isn't interested in the religion.
posted by arnicae at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2008


The smell. And when everything is white out (remember that?) it's nice to see something "living" and pretty.
posted by Solomon at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2008


Corporate Christmas for me, including a tree!
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 11:47 AM on December 7, 2008


I am an atheist-leaning agnostic and I've always had a tree and other Christmassy stuff. Some years I even put up a miniature nativity set (in fact, I just bought a new one on clearance this year) because I enjoy the cultural/traditional aspect of it. I look at it the same way I look at hiding eggs and buying lillies at Easter. It's fun.
posted by amyms at 12:08 PM on December 7, 2008


And for another (non-Christian, non-Jewish, non-athe/gnostic) POV, when I was in high school in California I had Hindu friends who had a tree and decorations, etc. Other friends from India say that Christmas is celebrated there (well beyond the small Christian community) because...well, everyone likes a party.
posted by kittyprecious at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yup. Same points as were made above re: family memories (my mother was an agnostic, my stepfather an atheist, and we always had a tree as well -- in fact, my mother is kind of Christmas-crazy), general cozy feeling, it's really drawn from a pagan tradition, etc. I'm a pretty die-hard atheist, but I completely buy into the whole Christmas-time pageantry -- the decorations, the carols, the family gathering, the warm home in the cold, the food. The only holiday I like better is Thanksgiving.

The Mister is generally opposed to having trees in our wee apartment, thanks to the mess (and the price), and we've been traveling around then for past few years -- so recently I've been making due with a small tabletop tinsel tree. But there really is nothing like the smell and seasonal nostalgia-rush of a real tree.
posted by tigerbelly at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2008


No. I avoid killing trees whenever possible.
posted by spork at 12:13 PM on December 7, 2008


We do. We just really like trees, and the christmas tree is not rooted in christianity (as others have pointed out). We also do the christmas gifting thing because the rest of our families do. But... we don't do christmas cards or wrapping paper... just generic "holiday" themes.
posted by smalls at 12:18 PM on December 7, 2008


(Oh, I usually have a live tree and plant it afterwards, spork. Kinda fits with the whole celebrating-life-and-survival-in-midwinter theme better than chopping one down and watching it turn all brown and crusty. IMHO. :) )
posted by hattifattener at 12:19 PM on December 7, 2008


I do! But my mini-tree only has Star Trek ornaments. We treat it as a secular gift-giving holiday.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:21 PM on December 7, 2008


I'm a non-militant atheist who puts up a plastic pine tree with decorations. It was a nordic and german pagan new year/life ritual long before it was a 'Christmas tree'.

I think celebrating family, togetherness, and the turn of the year is a cultural ritual that long predates formal religion - and christianity nicked it in order to fit in with the existing celebrations at the time. Or why don't they celebrate Christ's birthday in late spring/early summer, when he was born according to the bible? I'm quite happy to take part in the celebration for my own reasons, and even tolerate the usual christmas paraphenalia, it's fair enough that others celebrate in their own way. I draw the line at going to Church for midnight mass or the like, it would be rather hippocritical.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2008


Embrace and Extend.
posted by jfrancis at 12:30 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I put up a Christmas tree every year. It's a tradition, not a ritual. It happens to be a tradition centered around a religious holiday but so what? I will even happily say thank you if somebody wishes me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings". For me Christmas has always been a time to spend with family and friends.
posted by substrate at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2008


If you have kids, you want them to be happy, and pretty much nothing makes kids happier than Christmas: no school, playing in snow, enjoyable anticipation, lots of presents and sweet stuff, a big damned tree in the living room, and lights in and on the house, all the stuff other kids have, all the stuff in the cartoons and movies and window displays. Having Christmas is definitely better than not having Christmas when all the other kids are having it.

By the time kids are in school, they know there isn't really a Santa or a Jesus or a Tooth Fairy or an Easter Bunny or werewolves, but they can suspend their disbelief when necessary to the fun. And when they grow up, the tree and Jesus and the werewolves can become their family tradition, even if they were raised to be atheist.

No. I avoid killing trees whenever possible.

I'm not sure that's the right decision. Maybe I'm wrong, but consider this:

If people were going out and chopping down trees in deep natural forests full of other species, getting a natural tree every year would indeed be stupid and evil, but nearly 100 percent of natural Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms. The main question, then, is what would that land be if they weren't using it to farm Christmas trees? If someone owns a large chunk of land, it probably is not going to be left to grow wild: the alternative to a Christmas tree farm will be another sort of farm (beets or tomatoes or lettuce or whatever) with another sort of harvest and other environmental worries, or the land will be sold to developers and become parking lots and buildings and streets and lawns. I'd rather have trees growing, being cut down, and being replaced, than not have trees there at all.

As with all other sorts of crops, it is definitely worth trying to find a tree that was raised without fertilizer and pesticides and was not trucked a million miles to get to where you buy it, and trees should be disposed of properly, not stacked in a dump, but it seems to me that it is not necessarily horrible to grow trees as a consumable crop.
posted by pracowity at 12:59 PM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


My athiest husband put our christmas tree up last night. And we decorated it.

The lights are nice, but they do not celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus.
posted by santojulieta at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2008


Yes.

And, to echo a few others, it's not the Christmas tree has much to do with Christianity, anyway.

(Also, I put up a Christmas tree in New Zealand, where it's summer)
posted by rodgerd at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2008


It's just one of the many secular aspects of Christmas that non-Christians can enjoy. Everyone likes an excuse for giving gifts, baking cookies, putting up pretty and fragrant decorations, singing familiar songs, etc.

As an aside, I think the secular appeal of Christmas has spread to some non-Christian countries. I was in Malaysia, a largely Muslim country, at Hari Raya one year. The festivities had clearly absorbed a lot of Christmas influence, to my eye - in addition to the age-old customs of visiting friends, spreading a lavish buffet for guests, and fireworks in the evening, there were newer traditions that my Malay friends said had only started in the last few decades. Decorating the house, exchanging presents, sending greeting cards, special sales in the shops, huge themed decorations in the shopping malls ... it was like Christmas for Muslims (although I kept that thought firmly to myself). So yeah, people just like an excuse to do this sort of stuff regardless of theology.
posted by Quietgal at 1:03 PM on December 7, 2008


Atheist here. I have a Christmas tree every other year, on the years I host Christmas at my house. Alternate years I go to my parents' place in another state, so I skip the tree. But I can't bear not to have greenery at all, so I will have a mini-tree or a wreath or something.

As others have said, mostly I like the smell, I have fun decorating the tree, and it's fun to watch the cats freak out. I do Advent calendars and stockings, too. My holiday traditions are loosely based on those I grew up with (in an atheist family, but raised by parents who had been Christians in their younger days and were somewhat influenced by that), but since there's no religious significance to the season, I just pick and choose whatever parts of the holiday are fun for me.

My agnostic partner could not care less about Christmas, but goes along with whatever I want to do decoration-wise since it makes me happy and he's indifferent.
posted by Stacey at 1:11 PM on December 7, 2008


I'm an atheist, and if I have it my way then I help my parents put up our plastic fake tree (same one since, I think, 1984).

But I don't really like having a real tree in the house; I'm pretty irritated that my roommate decided to get a big one and stick it in our living room. It takes up 1/2 the room, wastes electricity that I have to pay for, and brought a whole bunch of bugs with it when it came in (thankfully those appear to have died now). The smell is nice, but I'd rather get that from a small wreath that doesn't take up so much space.

I think the answer here is that much of the actual practice of the holiday season isn't irrevocably tied to religion. Some things are closer, though; for example, although midnight mass may be beautiful (and requires less cleanup than a christmas tree!), I'd be more surprised if many of the atheists/agnostics here go.
posted by nat at 1:41 PM on December 7, 2008


I do. Always have.

I also get dressed up for Halloween, despite the fact that I don't fear the return of spirits of the dead at midnight.

And eat chocolate candy at Easter, although I'm not hoping for fertility.

Sorry, which religion were we discussing?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:55 PM on December 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Christmas is a big holiday in Japan, and they do use christmas trees and all the rest of it. Which is strange because very few Japanese are Christian, and most Japanese don't even know the origin of the holiday that they're celebrating.

It's pretty much completely a secular holiday for them. They learned it from the American occupation after the war.
posted by Class Goat at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2008


In a recent phone interview, Mr. Harris explained that as a “full-time infidel” these days, with book-tour and speaking duties, he didn’t have time to pick out his Christmas tree personally. And it was really not his idea but a result “of a lost tug of war with my wife,” who likes Christmas trappings and insisted on buying it. But he added that his reluctance “was good-natured all the while.”

In other words, he is a having a (relatively) holly, jolly atheistic Christmas, one that will include presents and a big family party. And Mr. Harris, who was raised by a Jewish mother and a Quaker father, sees no glaring contradiction in doing so, at least not one he feels the need to spend much time thinking about.

“It seems to me to be obvious that everything we value in Christmas — giving gifts, celebrating the holiday with our families, enjoying all of the kitsch that comes along with it — all of that has been entirely appropriated by the secular world,” he said, “in the same way that Thanksgiving and Halloween have been.”


--The Grinch Delusion: An Atheist Can Believe In Christmas
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:52 PM on December 7, 2008


I come from an unreligious family, half of Christian origin and half of Hindu origin. We always celebrated all the religious holidays we could, including Christmas with a huge tree and lots of presents. Part of it was to please those parts of the extended family that were religious, but mostly it was just because it was fun.

So in sum: More holidays = more fun = why not?
posted by peacheater at 3:35 PM on December 7, 2008


Third-gen agnostic here. My extended family does the best Christmases anywhere ever: huge beautiful tree in the crook of the staircase, no gross gift orgy, excellent food and music. Our Hanukkahs, where applicable, are pretty damn good too.

It's a well-known fact that in the Northern Hemisphere you have to put up a bunch of lights sometime roughly near the winter solstice. Otherwise the sun might not come back.
posted by tangerine at 3:37 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm atheist, my wife is agnostic. (Don't know if it matters, but I was raised Catholic and my wife raised Church of Christ; our respective families always put up trees.)

We don't put up trees. (I haven't since I was 18.) We're not hostile to the practice; it's just a time/money/storage hassle that we really don't get anything out of.
posted by cog_nate at 3:37 PM on December 7, 2008


Atheist here. Never used to bother doing a tree since I left home, not because I had any objection, but because I was too lazy. Now I have an 18 month old son, we have a tree with pretty lights and ornaments because it makes his eyes light up. We will continue having a tree, gifts and a yummy meal for years to come. I love Christmas trees, buying gifts for loved ones, eating delicious food and spending time with friends (family less so). I have no interest in the Christian aspects of Christmas, and just celebrate it for traditional reasons (fond memories from my generally atheist childhood). Also agree the tree is more Pagan than Christian so enjoy it!
posted by Joh at 4:00 PM on December 7, 2008


I am culturally/genetically Jewish but am not religious. I grew up having a Christmas tree and celebrating Christmas. It's fun. Boyfriend (culturally/genetically Christian, not religious) and I just got a tree and I'm so glad we did. I jokingly call it our "Pagan Winter Solstice Tree."

Do what you want, celebrate what you want. "Christmas" trees are pretty, smell great, and are a symbol of family, friends and giving.
posted by radioamy at 4:11 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sure. In all honesty, the Christmas that most of the US celebrates has very little to do with religion. The themes of togetherness, generousity, and charity transcend any sort of silly religious stories.
posted by chrisamiller at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2008


Not this atheist
posted by A189Nut at 4:43 PM on December 7, 2008


I am an atheist who puts up a Chanukah bush.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:51 PM on December 7, 2008


We sure do! The presents have to go under something.

For us, the presence of a tree is dependent on the kind of celebration we're having. This year and last we've been gathering friends and family (atheists/agnostics, too!) under our roof, so the tree becomes the icon we gather towards. (Or, our altar, so to speak.) The occasion is special, and warrants the presence of an impressive and festive icon. We choose the tree because those are the kinds of households we were raised in. (And also because we like hanging ornaments.)
posted by greenland at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2008


as others have pointed out, the xmas tree has nothing to do with christianity. Its symbolism is to bring in a piece of the natural world that is surviving the darkest, coldest time of year, to remind you that you, too, will make it through this painful time, so gather the family 'round, drink egg nog and hot apple cider, sing some songs, exchange some presents, celebrate that at least the darkest hour has passed (the days will begin to get long again) and spring will come again eventually.

Christians tacked on their savior to this story, not the other way around. What does a desert preacher have to do with pine trees?
posted by mdn at 5:38 PM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course there are atheists and agnostics who put up Christmas trees. Hell, there are even JEWS who put up Christmas trees (well, granted, these trees are jokingly re-named "Hannukkah Bushes", but yeah). Also, there are Christians who DON'T put up Christmas trees.

The way you want to celebrate this holiday, and the reasonings behind that celebration, is entirely and wholly up to you, and can have as much or as little justification as you like. It's not like the Christmas police are going to break in and tell you you're doing it wrong or you're not allowed just because your spiritual sense has changed.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:44 PM on December 7, 2008


Sometimes.
posted by OmieWise at 6:18 PM on December 7, 2008


This one does.
posted by littlerobothead at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2008


How many of us put up a Festivus pole?
posted by amyms at 6:39 PM on December 7, 2008


My boyfriend and I don't currently, but I will when we have kids. It's fun.
posted by fructose at 7:51 PM on December 7, 2008


Yes, because it's a family thing. Happy childhood memories. The ornaments are fun to put up and look at. We're entirely secular, but we sing Christmas carols because we like the music. Aside from a non-religious but culturally Jewish ex-bf who said that if we got married he wouldn't want Christmas decorations in our home because to him they signified overt Christianity, the non-religious people I know consider Christmas trees to be a cultural, not religious, tradition.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:56 PM on December 7, 2008


2 Atheists, 1 cat and the biggest bloody(real) tree in a private home, ever. (Well, we were at Biltmore last year, and we think that this looks better!). Love Christmas in Australia, and so much of it is anachronistic anyway here (snow, sleigh bells) that it is a pretty secular society.
posted by Flashduck at 1:51 AM on December 8, 2008


I've never really thought about it, but prompted by this question: the idea of bringing a green tree into the house is/was originally to remind us what it's going to be like after winter, when all the other trees are green as well. The fact that we can confidently predict this is a nice reminder of the predictability of the universe (at least as applied to things like celestial mechanics). So really, it's quite a rationalist thing to do :-)

(And to answer the question, I am atheist and have a tree, albeit an unconventional one this year)
posted by primer_dimer at 4:43 AM on December 8, 2008


This atheist LOVES Christmas trees. And the decorations, and the lights, and the music, etc. I love all of the non-Christ aspects of the holidays, in fact.
posted by davidmsc at 7:16 AM on December 8, 2008


Yes. I'm an atheist, culturally Christian, and Christmas trees are pretty. They celebrate the fact that green life will return after the cold of winter. They smell good if they're real. A holiday celebrating the birth of a baby makes me happy, so I have a creche, too. And I may go to Christmas Eve services just to sing carols. Peace on Earth - who can argue with that?
posted by theora55 at 8:54 AM on December 8, 2008


I have a small tree on my desk, with matroyshka clips on it and fake snow. I also have an Advent calendar, albeit one that came free from a production company and has chocolate in it. Also, my atheist boyfriend would pout and cry if he got no presents this year.

I like the secular interpretation of Easter - as a time of rebirth, and new life (animals breeding in the cold) and time to spend with family or friends. I was an Easter baby.
posted by mippy at 9:59 AM on December 8, 2008


I'm an atheist Jew, and just put up my Christmas tree over the weekend. It's just plan nice to have around. I like decorating for Christmas, and my menorah fits in nicely with the wreaths and garlands.
posted by booknerd at 10:48 AM on December 8, 2008


Hell, we post pictures of our Xmas trees on the major C. of Satan BBS.
posted by Weighted Companion Cube at 11:32 AM on December 8, 2008


I am not sure if you're still reading, but if you are...

Atheism is not a religion. The only thing that all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in any god or gods. So you are going to get a different answer from every single atheist.

However, the best answers are those that answer you with a question. That is - why not? The holiday has become a secular one in North America, if not other places in the world, sharing significance with Christianity in name only, for non-Christian celebrants. The roots of the holiday are non-Christian religions anyway, coming from the absorbtion of Celtic and Germanic peoples by the Romans.

As an aside, I can't stand the word "pagan." A rather loose description of how it came into use is that it was descriptive of non-Roman (or Greek) religions. The Romans had a tendency to adopt many of the rites and rituals of conquered people's religions (and culture) into their own so as to more easily control the populace. Because after the time of Constantine the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as a core religion, those not a part of the Roman Borg were considered "pagan," and many of the rites of Christianity and the existing Roman religion were melded together. Today the term is not descriptive, since religions that are just as rich and varied as Christianity but have even older origins are all lumped together into one catch-all, meaningless term.

One could argue that the driving festival behind modern-day Christmas is Saturnalia. Others have pointed to the tradition of hanging globes and other bright orbs from trees as coming from even older sun-worship festivals. What it comes down to, though, is that North American culture, like the Roman Empire, has absorbed and molded this holiday into something different from what it once was. As an atheist, or agnostic, you should feel no hand-wringing about celebrating this holiday.

Enjoy a time of selflessness and caring for your loved ones.
posted by Nixie Pixel at 4:36 PM on December 8, 2008


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