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Oct 25 2013

What is atheism’s main holiday?

I have been invited to be on a ‘religious’ panel organized by students at our university to represent the atheist point of view. Now I know of course that atheism is not a religion but we still haven’t found a good umbrella term to cover religion and non-religion and so are stuck with terms like ‘inter-faith’ that misrepresent the nature of atheism.

But I don’t get too upset. At least now people know that we atheists exist and should be part of these conversations. It was not long ago that it would not even occur to them to invite us.

Anyway, here’s how they want to start the program: “Each religion has 5 minutes to explain their religion’s main holiday”. Again, it is clear that they are stuck in religious thinking but rather than trying to reword the question, I thought that I could have some fun with responding to this question as it is.

I could say we have no holiday. Or that we enjoy all religious holidays because we get all the time off with none of the work or obligations or angst associated with them, because atheists have their Sundays and Saturdays and Fridays free. Or is there some absurd holiday that I should pick for atheists and riff on?

Any thoughts on how I should respond to this question?

52 comments

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  1. 1
    RubiconAZ

    I would suggest Christmas for two reasons. First, there are a lot of humanist values that can be shown without the need for a religious tie-in and second, you can explain how it was hijacked by Christianity.

    Or Pi day.

  2. 2
    jamessweet

    If you want to be perfectly accurate, the main atheist holiday would probably be Christmas, at least in the west. It’s probably the most universally celebrated…

    Imagining how I would approach it… For me, I might open by pointing that out, and use that to segue into the point you mention about how we can enjoy all religious holidays. For me personally, this is not a hypothetical: My wife and I are both atheists, and she comes from a Jewish family while I come from a Mormon family (which, holiday-wise, is essentially Christian). Our atheism allows us to light Channukah candles and hide Easter eggs with equal zest. We’ve hosted Passover dinners, and put nativity scene ornaments on our Christmas tree. And because we don’t actually believe any of it, this causes no worry or stress, and we feel perfectly free to tweak the traditions so that they fit better with our lifestyle (e.g. we are very fast and loose about when we actually light the Channukah candles).

  3. 3
    doublereed

    New Years? You could probably turn that into some humanism idea without too much difficulty.

    Maybe Halloween? The holiday where no one takes the religious part seriously and it’s all about being friendly neighbors and having fun and eating candy? It’s clearly the best American holiday and it’s celebration is entirely secular regardless of its religious roots.

  4. 4
    Scott D

    Penn Jillette wrote the book “Every day is an Atheist Holiday.” ‘Nuff said!

  5. 5
    Al Dente

    With atheism every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast.

  6. 6
    Tabby Lavalamp

    I’d go with Towel Day (May 25) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Towel_Day

    A second choice would be Talk Like A Pirate Day (September 19). While Towel Day can be tied to an atheist, TLAPD shows the silliness of special days.

  7. 7
    Zain

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus

  8. 8
    maddog1129

    There are a number of holidays that are worth celebrating secularly. Labor Day is a good one … every person has a right to work without exploitation. In any of the former colonial places, the day of national independence is good. In USA, Fourth of July, Independence Day, is a celebration of our republican (non-monarchical, i.e., no “divine right of kings”) democracy, with liberty of conscience for all enshrined in the Constitution. A day to celebrate peace and the end of war, such as Armistice Day, or a Memorial Day (Decoration Day) to celebrate the sacrifices of those who gave their lives to preserve freedom, are perfectly admirable secular holidays.

  9. 9
    ImaginesABeach

    My family celebrates Gratitude Day – a holiday of our own making – the 3rd Monday of December. We bake cookies and deliver them to the kids’ teachers and school staff and anyone else that we want to thank for being part of our lives. Note that this is gratitude to other people, not “thanksgiving” to some imaginary being. Last year, we baked 60 dozen cookies the weekend before Gratitude Day. This year, we are shooting for 70 dozen.

  10. 10
    invivoMark

    That… is amazing!

  11. 11
    iplon

    I would suggest starting by saying that, as Atheism isn’t a religion, it doesn’t have holidays. Atheism is merely a position on a single question, does god exist.

    You could then bring up that there are some sects of Hinduism and Buddhism (and other religions) that do not have belief in a god, making them atheistic in nature, and they might have main holidays, but those holidays would not be the main holiday of atheism. It is a bit like asking “What is the main holiday of non soccer players?”

    That doesn’t really take more than a minute though. So I’d just tell a personal story about your favorite holiday, making clear that you can’t speak for all atheists.

  12. 12
    Pen

    We tend to celebrate the holidays which became Christmas and Easter using the more pagan traditions associated with them. It’s not that we’re in any way self-consciously pagan – I can’t emphasise that enough – but when we’d dropped the Christian bits, that underlying core is what we were left with. I think the pagan aspects probably did survive better in Europe than America. I do consciously think of Christmas as the midwinter holiday and Easter as the end of winter party. I expect to do midsummery things as well. I guess I just like to mark the seasons. I’m not particularly atheistic about it, except in so far as I’m an atheist all the time anyway.

  13. 13
    badgersdaughter

    A holiday is a day on which a religion celebrates the most important historical events or central tenets of its belief system. Can atheists really share a holiday in common? We do not have a shared mythology or even really a shared history. What would we have, a Voltaire Day? Last year my friends and I raised a glass of Johnnie Walker Black in memory of Christopher Hitchens, and we plan to do so again, but that is not something we expect everyone else to do. I could suggest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Day_of_Peace

  14. 14
    Cuttlefish

    According to internet commenters during the War On Christmas, atheists do have a holiday–April Fools Day.

    http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/religion/a/atheist_holiday.htm

  15. 15
    northstar

    Well, the winter solstice is an actual astronomical event, and my family usually celebrates it with a special dinner we call WinterFeast. It’s conveniently between the obligatory-family times usually claimed by our Christian relatives and in-laws, so we get to have our own personal family time with it.

    Some holidays are old, very old, and I have no problem celebrating with my family in our own way!

    I think you could answer the question as: holidays are as individual as atheists are!

  16. 16
    Great American Satan

    Some good answers here, some I disagree with as well. I would not say Xmas, because a few of us do a good job of minimizing that one in our lives. I’d say it’s personal and based on our enjoyment and the prevailing sentiments of our families.

    For my partner and I, it’s our Halloween and our birthdays, hard to pick one for the top spot..

  17. 17
    consciousness razor

    I could say we have no holiday. Or that we enjoy all religious holidays because we get all the time off with none of the work or obligations or angst associated with them, because atheists have their Sundays and Saturdays and Fridays free. Or is there some absurd holiday that I should pick for atheists and riff on?

    Any thoughts on how I should respond to this question?

    Despite the word’s etymology as a “holy day,” it does not need to be a religious concept. It’s about intending some length of time to be for celebrating/commemorating/observing something significant. As with more general claims that religions are the only way to have meaning in life, it is not true that this can only be so if the supernatural exists. We can intend things and mean things and have significant things (you know: by signifying them ourselves), without a soul or a god or an ultimate purpose or any such nonsense.

    There are lots and lots of secular holidays. In the U.S.,* National Religious Freedom Day is a good one for atheists, although it gets little recognition. More generally, there’s Earth Day, Labor Day, Human Rights Day, and so on. These are all good things, and again, we don’t need gods for them to be good. What do you think is good and worthwhile? That’s how you should respond to the question, not by assuming any such thing must be “absurd.”

    *Believe it or not, it’s true that not all atheists are U.S. citizens or living in the U.S., so a “national holiday” isn’t something I would expect others to celebrate. (Or I’d expect them to have other, similar days celebrating much the same in their own societies, which is of course perfectly fine.) But contrary to what badgersdaughter claimed above, we are all human beings living on the same planet, so by the fact alone we have a shared history and shared interests and have the same kinds of meaningful experiences.

  18. 18
    colnago80

    Actually, we could celebrate December 25 as the birthday of Isaac Newton. Or Feb. 12 as the birthday of Charles Darwin.

  19. 19
    cubist

    I kind of like April Fools’ Day as the major atheist holiday. Yes, godbots pinned it on us because they think we’re the fools, but AFD works just as well as a day for sensible people to point and laugh at stupidity…

  20. 20
    Gregory in Seattle

    If I were doing such a talk, I would say that any observance that celebrates family and community would be an atheist holiday. US Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving… pretty much any harvest festival. Kwanzaa. Chinese New Year and Qingming. Possibly even Christmas and Diwali, as those are commonly observed in a secular manner. I would also mention efforts to claim the equinoxes and solstices as non-religious celebrations in some atheist communities.

  21. 21
    Reginald Selkirk

    You could point out that atheists are free to celebrate any holiday they want. Examples include Pi day (3.14, or March 14), Talk like a pirate day (Sept 19), Newtonmas (December 25), Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12). I see lcdolnage80 has already noted a couple of these, so my point is that we have the freedom to celebrate any existing holiday, or to make up one of our own.

  22. 22
    Matt G

    Yes, Newtonmas! Just a few days earlier is Kitzmas, a celebration of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover decision.

  23. 23
    raven

    Atheist holiday? Probably the Winter Solstice. AKA known as Xmas, Yule, and a few other names.

    I’m better on Pagan holidays. The Winter Solstice, which xians stole from the Pagans and we are stealing it back.

    Spring Equinox aka as Easter, named after the Germanic goddess of spring and fertility.

    Summer Solstice.

    Halloween.

    May day.

    Any other holidays anyone can think of. Pagans go to a lot of parties. It’s a sacred religious duty.

  24. 24
    Leo Buzalsky

    I’m a slight fan of April Fools Day because it does help to promote the importance of skepticism, albeit indirectly.

  25. 25
    Pierce R. Butler

    Did not the great prophet Bobby Henderson (beer be upon him!) proclaim Holiday, encompassing roughly a month on either side of the winter solstice and embracing just about every date declared by lesser prophets (including advertisers) as the “Holiday Season”?

  26. 26
    Vicki, duly vaccinated tool of the feminist conspiracy

    Maybe point out that in the United States today, all the major holidays are either “family reunion day” or “discount shopping day,” and that either of those is going to work for a lot of atheists.

    Also, everyone has a birthday.

  27. 27
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Anything associated with Christmas is bad news, ask Jews who are a bit embarrassed that Chanukah is considered a substitute good.

    I propose April 25,

    “”Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” was an article published by Francis Crick and James D. Watson in the scientific journal Nature in its 171st volume on pages 737–738 (dated 25 April 1953).[1] It was the first publication which described the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.”

    This nicely addresses atheism’s usual association with Science, broad rejection of creationism, and twists the panties of ignorant feminists that insist Rosalind Franklin should have gotten a Nobel Prize.

  28. 28
    Jörg

    Blasphemy Day!

  29. 29
    colnago80

    Re stfwhateverd00d @ #24

    According to the rules, Roselind Franklin was not eligible for the Nobel Prize as she was dead when it was awarded. Nice try but no cigar.

  30. 30
    lorn

    A day as an atheist is like a day in the corp:

    Every meal a banquette
    Every formation a parade.
    Every paycheck a fortune.

    For me every day is more or less like Halloween. Bishops in their finery, people writhing around on the ground ‘speaking in tongues’, self-inflating bastards cloaked in self-righteousness preaching hate … it is all just dress up. The least important aspect is that they believe what they say. None or them are any more important or impressive than children dressing up to have a little fun pantomiming extortion.

    Halloween is a fair approximation of religion. People dress up and scare others to advance their interests. The children get candy, the adults seek to control minds, laws, governments, entire nations. But it is still just dress up with a side of scary stories.

  31. 31
    mnb0

    “Probably the Winter Solstice.”
    Doesn’t work for atheists living near the equator, like me.

  32. 32
    jackal

    I would say no holiday. Atheism spans all countries and cultures. We don’t have a single unifying holiday.

  33. 33
    Lofty

    Atheists don’t have holidays. They have days off. When do they have days off? Whenever they feel the need. As a self employed atheist, I often feel the need to have Thursday off, because it suits me. I celebrate it by going off on my bicycle for the day.

  34. 34
    Ray de Silva

    Well, I think this is absolutely great. Let’s INVENT a whole bunch of quasi-religious dates and objects! Why should the religious have all the fun? I vote for:.(1) YULE as the holiday – we’ll make it 22nd of December, and everybody can have a HUGE bonfire as a required religious practice – this might send the fire marshals nuts, since they can’t interfere with religious practices without considerable consequences – and we can take over toasted marshmallows as holy food;.(2) Santa Claus as the object of veneration – he gives people stuff, doesn’t he?;.(3) The Complete Works of Shakespeare as the Holy Book – I believe it’s still the most-quoted author on the planet; and.(4) Sun-Tsu, Macchiavelli, Chief Crazy Horse, Mahatma Gandhi, and Terry Pratchett as the foremost saints/patriarchs. Of course, Terry Pratchett is still alive, but we can pretend he’s dead. He won’t mind.

  35. 35
    hyphenman

    Good morning Mano,

    I spent a great deal of time pondering your question yesterday and arrived at no reasonable, non-culturally biased selection.

    The best I have is our individual birthdays.

    Do all you can to make today a good day.

    Jeff

  36. 36
    Dave W

    Agnostica is the only truly secular winter celebration.”

  37. 37
    Lassi Hippeläinen

    Newton wasn’t an atheist. Far from it.

  38. 38
    mattkovach

    Any atheist meetup where alcohol is served

  39. 39
    Caveat M. Tor

    I’m surprised there’s only one mention above of Darwin’s B-day. Many humanist groups celebrate Darwin Day, and there’s even a song about it.

  40. 40
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    Wow, your idea lights a lamp in my mind. This idea just beautifully combines humanist values with the cultural season. A family-oriented celebration, everyone contributes ideas and gifts, and practices generosity and gratitude.

    Now, why did you choose the 3rd Monday? As opposed to the Winter Solstice? Practicality, perhaps: Monday is a school/work day so you can easily deliver the cookies to teachers, doctors, or whoever. Whereas the Solstice might fall on a weekend.

  41. 41
    wtfwhateverd00d

    Yeah, no kidding, thanks for demonstrating why Reading Is Fundamental.

  42. 42
    left0ver1under

    Labour Day is undoubtedly the right choice. It’s the beginning of the school year in most places, and it’s a day celebrating work and workers. Science and atheism are all about work, education and thinking, so I can’t see a more appropriate day for it.

  43. 43
    iasasai

    If it were me, I’d bring something along to work on and when it was my turn I’d say something glib like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was getting something accomplished instead of worrying about and pandering to some sort of holiday ideal, just as we do on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.”

    Then again, I personally observe not a single one of those holiday things – they’re all either religious in nature (christmas, easter, thanksgiving), patriotic mumbo jumbo (veterans, memorial, presidents, columbus), or purely symbolic (MLK, new year). MLK is the only one I’m tempted to observe, but it’s already been denatured and is just another official Monday off from school or work (for some of us, anyway).

    Yes, I know, those religiously natured holidays are being just as denatured and that can only be a good thing, but I’m very much a “burn all bridges” kind of antitheist. I also find patriotism, even the so-called benign types, to be toxic. Symbolism I just find tedious and unnecessary and even laughable. Yeah, I was a nightmare for my literature and art instructors once upon a time…

  44. 44
    ImaginesABeach

    I wanted a day in the “holiday season”, it had to be a school day, it takes an entire weekend to bake 60+ dozen cookies and we wanted them to be fresh. Thus, it pretty much had to be a Monday in December, if you pick the first Monday there is a risk of it landing on Pearl Harbor Day (we are in the US). And since we prepare the cookie dough in advance (we mix it, roll it into balls or press through a cookie press or cutout as appropriate then freeze it), it’s best to do it as late in the month as possible. Purely practical.

    Also, using the Solstice gets pretty close to dragging religion into it.

  45. 45
    rikitiki

    WHAT? Nobody caught the Easter connection?
    The perfect atheist holiday! After all, it’s when we
    EAT BABIES! (hard-boiled eggs; embryos, Peep’s
    and candy eggs and bunnies).

  46. 46
    HFM

    I quite like Christmas, myself. Most cold-weather cultures have something like it; we’re thumbing our nose at the long, bleak winters with lights and greenery. And when the worst of the long nights is over, and the days are starting to lengthen again, we gather together and celebrate with our families, because we’re still here and why not celebrate that. I’ve never had a religious Christmas; it was always about family, and about hope. (And, admittedly, presents. And eggnog.)

    And I’m a fan of the U.S. Independence Day also. There’s a lot to be proud of in the American experiment – not least the then-radical idea that one’s religion, or lack thereof, was none of the government’s business.

  47. 47
    Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    A lot of good suggestions, but I gotta stick with Sunday as my holiday of choice. Every Sunday I wake up early, realize I don’t have to drag my ass to church anymore, smile the deep satisfied smile of the truly content, and go back to sleep. Its a little slice of bliss.

  48. 48
    Mano Singham

    I tend to agree with you. It is nice to not have to go through all the dreary rituals. As Steve Martin sang, we get our Sundays free. I suspect that Saturday is the best holiday for former Jews and Friday for former Muslims for the same reason.

  49. 49
    Mary Jo

    Hi Mano, did the panel meet yet? Did you choose a day to discuss? How did it go?

  50. 50
    Mano Singham

    The panel discussion is on November 13. I’ll post something after it is over. I am still mulling over all the suggestions.

  51. 51
    Raging Bee

    Christmasaturnamithrakwanzannakayulestice?

  52. 52
    naimad

    Perhaps you should surprise everyone by announcing the adoption of a holiday for atheists…April Fool’s Day.

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