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December 18, 2010 7:37 AM   Subscribe

What should two atheists do for christmas? I will be 2692km away from my family, and 1204 km from my closest friends. My boyfriend is a "christmas is exactly like any other day" kind of guy (for example, he neither wants to receive gifts or give them, because he finds choosing gifts way too stressful), but he loves me and wants me to be happy, so he'll go along with any not-too-over-the-top plan. We also don't have a lot of money. I do want to do *something* nice though, so that I don't feel sad/neglected/lonely/left out, and eating icecream + watching a DVD seems a little too low-key...
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Well, one of my Jewish friends told me that it was a tradition among many Jews to go out for Chinese food on Christmas...

I should imagine you can do anything that you find fun. Treat it like any other day off...
posted by bardophile at 7:42 AM on December 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Wrap up toasty warm and go for a walk.

Cook and eat something unstressful but yummy. We do steak - quick to cook but still special. I am planning spicy parsnip soup in the evening and something like this trifle.

If you know people locally who will be on their own or who will be grateful to leave their folks after Christmas dinner, invite them over in the evening for drinks. Make sure there is port and Stilton.
posted by emilyw at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Chinese food and maybe a movie is probably the most "traditional" non-Christian thing.

Or you could make a nice Christmas ham, because, mmmm, ham.
posted by equalpants at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2010

Are you somewhere where the days are short right now and outside is cold and grey?
There's something naturally festive in the whole festival of lights / winter solstice festivity that doesn't presume religion.
Make it a moment of light and warmth inside. Lots of candles. Decorations. Enjoyable food. Enjoying each-others company (making a meal together that's more involved, doing something together; play boardgames, sing songs, whatever you enjoy doing together).

If you're in the southern hemisphere I'd wait for june 21st.
If you're near to the equator the whole festival of lights thing doesn't make sense without religion I'm afraid.
posted by joost de vries at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make mulled wine! If the holiday season had a taste, mulled wine would be it (and it has the added bonus of making your house smell wonderful). You can use the inexpensive wine that comes in the big jugs, and it still tastes delicious. Bonus points if you have a fireplace to drink it in front of.
posted by a.steele at 7:53 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do what you'd normally do at Christmas - get some friends round, eat some food, watch a cool film. Spend time with the people you love (it's ALWAYS a good time to do that) and enjoy their company. Maybe go out to a restaurant that you've been wanting to go to for a long time.

If the weather is suitable, maybe make a snowman in an odd place - the top of your car, on a wall, or something. That keeps it special because it's not something you can do every day and if you do it with your SO, you can start a nice tradition for the both of you.
posted by Solomon at 7:55 AM on December 18, 2010

We usually don't exchange gifts or anything either for mostly the same reasons and Christmas has still been a really nice day. We still get together with friends and have Christmas dinner and I honestly have not missed the gift giving or receiving. It's a much nicer time of year without the gifts.

Having said that this year we decided that we would get gifts for us rather than a gift for the other person. (This is just between my husband and I-- we are still doing the gift thing with anyone else.) So we are choosing something that both of us would enjoy together. An activity or event we can do/go to together. It doesn't have to be expensive, you could plan a bunch of cool activities for yourselves. I don't know where you live but if you are in a wintery place what about going ice skating or tobogganing or something? What about touring the neighbourhoods with lots of lights set up? There are probably lots of free/cheap Christmas type things you could go enjoy and feel Christmas-y in your area.
posted by sadtomato at 7:58 AM on December 18, 2010

My husband and I are also atheist and spent about half our Christmases alone. Our typical plan is to sleep in, make a big elaborate breakfast of some sort, and then have an appetizer feast for dinner. We usually spend the day doing some kind of themed movie or TV marathon - the Lord of the Rings movies (although this gets grueling by the end), Star Wars, Wes Anderson filmfest, a million episodes of whatever television show we're Netflixing through, etc. It makes for a fun day!

Last year we also went out for dinner on Christmas Eve, which ended up being a surprisingly good time. Everyone at the restaurant was in a festive mood and they had a little band playing Christmas music.
posted by something something at 8:12 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not religious (and if I have any religion at all it's handwavey paganish), but I still do Christmas, so don't let the atheism stop you from celebrating if it feels more comfortable to do so! To me Christmas has gone beyond religion - just because it starts somewhere, that doesn't mean that's where it has to be all its existence, you know? (Not that it even started as Christian, for that matter.)

At any rate, I realize you want to not make your boyfriend uncomfortable, so you probably don't want to do the whole shebang, but there's no reason not to do something like baking Christmas cookies (or even more neutral ones, like chocolate chip cookies), or decorating the place a bit. I'd suggest just figuring out which of the Christmas traditions mean the most to you, and going with those.
posted by Stormfeather at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You could use Japan as a model as how to celebrate Christmas without the trappings of religion. Get a small tree and decorate it with lights and have a romantic date night on Christmas Eve. (Christmas Eve is celebrated like Valentines Day). On Christmas day, you could eat fried chicken, which is a "traditional" Japanese Christmas meal, or just sushi and sake.
posted by Ladysin at 8:25 AM on December 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you live in an apartment building where the people around you are out of town, you should have a two-person dance party with music as loud as you can play it and stand it, and singing loudly in or out of key, just because you can.
posted by raztaj at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2010

Some people like to do Christmas in July; what about turning that on its head and doing summer vacation for Christmas? Dress up in summery outfits, grill something for dinner (if possible), read children's books about summer vacation to one another. Make a tradition just for you that's fun, festive, and nothing to do with Christmas.
posted by epj at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My brother married into a Jewish family, so he spends the day specifically setting aside a little time for good music and reading (a treat he doesn't get much of with three kids) and cooks a big festive meal. It doesn't have to be something intricate, but something that he can take time doing, like soup (leftovers, yay!) and a roast or something.

But, yeah, that's just another way of saying what other folks have said, which is to celebrate having time together.
posted by ldthomps at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Volunteer. Go hiking. Cook an awesome meal. Have a game party with friends. Get drunk and feed the birds. Find a cool one-day project that will be memorable that you can do with each other.

You do not need money, gods, or family to have a blast on this planet, just a little imagination.
posted by quarterframer at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Use your post title as a theme and celebrate "It's a Wonderful Life". For a low cost gift exchange trade favorite pictures, poems, youtube video clips anything. (Try to get in the habit of not being stressed about gift giving - things don't have to be perfect, you will both appreciate whatever the other person does). Since you're away from family and friends design your own Happy New Year's cards and spend the day writing notes in them and get them ready to send off.
posted by Edward L at 9:16 AM on December 18, 2010

I am also an atheist living in a world where 1) my family and friends are christians, so I have to "celebrate" if I want to see them 2) Junk sellers exploit the christian holiday, which means that I have to both buy and receive junk (but, because of this, I buy and receive less junk throughout the rest of the year, so I think it works out) 3) the government has decided that we aren't allowed to work on the day that baby jesus was born in a manger

So I just go along with it. I don't have much choice.

But, at the same time, I have found that many holidays occur throughout the year that are not religious. For instance, the solstices and equinoxes. I proudly celebrate and talk about those and I have for years. Instead of praying to the savior of mankind, why not take the day (the 21st, but you can celebrate it on the 25th if you want ;) ) to think about everything that has happened since the last solar day (september 23rd I believe). Think about how the seasons have changed, how the time has passed, how the leaves have colored, fallen, and been covered with snow (if you are in that part of the globe, that is). Think about how it will continue to change before the next equinox (march 20th). That's what I do.
posted by rebent at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to the movies and/or Chinese! Though I guess if you live in a heartland/Bible Belt part of the country maybe even the Chinese restaurants might be closed.

If you live in a big city, look for a restaurant catering to Russians, Greeks, or really anyone Orthodox Christian. Apparently 12/25 is not their big celebration date (they go all out for Twelfth Night instead). In New York one year, some friends and I went to one of those big crazy Russian places in Brighton Beach. One of my best Christmases ever.

If you were not anonymous, folks could give you more specific suggestions than "anything you think is fun!"
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2010

Yeah, movies and Chinese. My family never went out for Chinese on Christmas when I was growing up, now that I'm an atheistic adult, this is the only Jewish thing I do. Any Austinites reading this thread—check out Din Ho for the Peking Duck, and be prepared to wait.

One thing my friends and I did do when I was a teenager was go bowling on Christmas night (and only Christmas night). The bowling alley was packed.

One thing my wife and I did a few years ago was take off to go camping in Big Bend National Park. The Chisos Basin campground was full of other people who had the same idea. We had a great time.
posted by adamrice at 11:33 AM on December 18, 2010

Most homeless shelters/soup kitchens/etc. host a Christmas dinner, and a fair number of them are willing to take on extra one-time volunteers around the holidays. Depending on where you live, many or all of these may be run by religious organizations; if it would make you or your boyfriend very uncomfortable to possibly have to join in a prayer/listen to a brief sermon, then this might not be for you. But if you can grin and bear it, volunteering is a really great (and non-commercial, and free) way to spend the holiday.

If you live in a fairly large city, there are sometimes group dinners/activities aimed at, well, folks like you; people who are far from their families/friends, and who want to do something fun-but-not-extravagant. Googling "Christmas (community) dinner/activities in $CITY" or pulling up everything for 12/25 in your area on Meetup might turn something up.
posted by kagredon at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2010

Last year on Christmas morning the hubs and I sat around eating homemade monkey bread, drinking coffee with Bailey's and listening to David Sedaris' Christmas readings on YouTube. And we always do Chinese for dinner when we're alone together for Christmas. We jokingly refer to our favorite buffet as the Heathen Chinese because they are always open on Christian holidays.

I like the idea of Christmas bowling. I'll have to check and see if our bowling alley is open. Otherwise we'll probably play board games for awhile in the afternoon.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not hard to reconcile the holiday to the non-religious (like me). The turning of the darkest season toward Springtime was celebrated all over the world before ever there were Christians.

For a fun activity try reading Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud to each other. In the whole story there's almost no mention of religious figures. (Almost). Instead it's all about the other aspects of the holiday: tradition, family, being a little nicer toward others.

Ditto the movie: A Christmas Story.

I hope it's a merry time.
posted by wjm at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2010

last time I was at home with the boyfriend instead of with family we decided to watch the sort of movie that you'd never watch with family. We ended up watching shortbus, which is funny and dirty, and it was awesome fun. So I recommend watching dirty movies and making it an XXXmas
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go somewhere secluded and naturey, a beach or woods, and build a small bonfire together. Exchange small gifts, eat lovely food you have prepared, drink cocoa (if it's cold). Invite friends if you know of others who are also spending the day nontraditionally.
posted by Kattullus at 5:54 PM on December 18, 2010

Born without religion in a region where religion doesn't have much hold (Quebec.) It was years before I learned the christian origin of the holiday. We still celebrate it somewhat traditionally, with a family gathering, food, and gifts. I understand it as a celebration of family ties and generosity. The main difference being we celebrate a week or two after the 25th, since people tend to be more available, and gifts are cheaper.
posted by gmarceau at 7:19 PM on December 18, 2010

We are Jewish, but we do enjoy watching our favorite Christmas movies (this year it's going to be Bad Santa, Scrooged, and possibly Trading Places) and drinking boozy eggnog. Sometimes there is fudge. Food (order-in Chinese or Thai) is generally eaten picnic style on the floor in front of the movie.

If that's too low key, perhaps there are recipes you've been wanting to try to cook together, or an exceptional bottle of wine you could share? If you're out driving, take a tour of lighted homes. If the weather's not oppressive, take a nice walk together... this time of year we tend to stay inside so much that outside time can be celebratory.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:33 PM on December 18, 2010

We are going to watch "Christmas Vacation", consume mass quantities of alcohol, and grill lobster tails and shrimp and eat them off of the tailgate of the truck spread with newspaper(no muss, no fuss). And just be happy.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:43 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do a lovely, indulgent and fairly traditional Christmas dinner for yourselves. Just get each other a small gift - he needs to man up about that, it's not hard - and have a cosy night in with candles, wine, brandy and good cheer. Crackers are fun, too.
posted by Decani at 6:41 AM on December 19, 2010

If you're not into the idea of Chinese food on Christmas, bear in mind that there ARE other restaurants open that day -- you just might have to Google/call around a bit to find out which ones. My boyfriend and I are going out to dinner and a movie that night. We did this last year too. Many other people did the same thing, and everyone was in a good mood, and it felt very festive.
posted by spinto at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2010

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I'm the sap who always gets wistful and doe-eyed when faced with Christmas music, the smell of a Christmas tree, and a warm fire. I grew up a deeply-devoted Catholic, but I'm agnostic now. I also used to be the big baby that couldn't get to sleep on Christmas Eve because I was too excited about opening gifts the next day, but my immediate family has long-since issued a strict no-Christmas-gifts-given-or-received policy in our household for money reasons. Christmas is still my favorite holiday. My enjoyment of the day is not diminished now that my views on spirituality are more complicated than when I was younger, and I don't enjoy it any less without gifts (it's actually kind of a stress reliever not having to worry about who wants what).

Ignore the religious stuff, ignore the gifts. Spend the days off from work (if you're lucky enough to get any) spending time with the people you love. That's what it's all about, no matter what traditions you are or aren't performing. People might tell you otherwise, but they're being disingenuous or trying to prove some kind of point.
posted by kryptondog at 12:42 PM on December 20, 2010

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