The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas

Vince Guaraldi and Wham are playing overhead everywhere, snow is abundant in decor and meager in weather, and microagressions are flying. That must mean it’s December and therefore the Christmas season! When this time of year rolls around I like to pull out an old favorite book. It is a touching tome that embraces the spirit of the season and reminds me that there’s more to the holidays than commercialism. That book is called

The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas
edited by Robin Harvie and Stephanie Meyers.

I truly adore this book. It’s a collection of essays and everything I mentioned above is actually true. I have found this to be one of, if not the, most empowering, inspiring, and heartfelt books about Christmas. Don’t be put off by the title, though. It’s not just for atheists, and it’s about a lot more than just Christmas.

Some of the writers in this collection will be familiar from scientific and secular circles. There’s Richard Dawkins, Phil Plait, Brian Cox, and Simon Singh. There’s also Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran, punk dad writer Neal Pollack, music critic Simon Price, and journalist Allison Kilkenny. Their approaches range from the skeptical and scientific, to the irreverent and bemused, and off into the philosophical and introspective.

One of the funniest stories in here is How to Have the Perfect Jewish Christmas by Matt Kirshen. It’s a great anecdote that both lambastes and celebrates some weird issues I have found in Judaism with a great use of the term “kestrel”. Directly following that piece is Claire Rayner’s pragmatic How to Have a Peaceful Pagan ChristmasAn Atheist at the Movies by David Baddiel and Arvind Ethan David is a fun rundown of atheists in movies (or lack thereof).

If you want some of the old heart-string tugs, Jump to Phil Plait’s Starry, Starry Night. It starts out with him covering his feelings about Christmas during his childhood; being sick of hearing about it, hating the music, and feeling someone of an outsider as a Jew. But even when dealing with holiday loneliness. Phil uses his knowledge of astronomy to look out to the universe and find his own personal connection to the holiday. Simon Le Bon’s Losing My Faith starts from a very different place. Le Bon was Christian and loved Christmas. Now he just loves Christmas. But whereas an atheist connecting with Christmas can be purely constructive, Le Bon fears the possible repercussions of losing his faith. His journey has periods of growing loneliness and isolation, though he ends up more sure of who he is, with his love of Christmas undiminished though transformed.

The essays in this anthology vary wildly in content, tone, and outcome. I’ve had this book for years and haven’t read every piece in here. Each winter I pick it up, reread a few of my favorite bits, and explore some untouched tracts. Honestly, it’s become my own Christmas tradition, sort of a little gift I give to myself each year. And I suppose it’s time to pick it up again.

Bonus trivia: It’s the first ebook that Allison ever read.

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who's sick of the white Christian male being America's "default" setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access are wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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