Christmas music and the atheist.

Seems this time of year brings out the folks who are curious how us atheists deal with life during a time period that is supposedly saturated with religious references. It’s assumed, for example, that we don’t celebrate Christmas and find all the holiday tunes that fly around at this time of year to be grating at best. While I have met a few atheists in my time that seem to take that approach, the total numbers are smaller than you might think. 

Over at The Raving Atheist is an entry about his thoughts on holiday music and why Christmas is so popular even among us non-believers. He pretty much says everything I would say about it.

As of last week, no less that eight New York area radio stations were playing Christmas music around the clock, reports Newsdays Ellis Henican. One of them, WNEW-FM, has been doing so since November 13 – – more than two full weeks before Thanksgiving. ғCertainly, Henican concludes, ԓthe atheists arent charmed.Ҕ

Hes certainly wrong about this atheist.

One cannot escape from a childhood of New York Christmases without developing an irreversible addiction to holiday music. Even the crappiest 70Ғs Santa-Kills-Granny gag-song is enough to trigger a tearful wave of nostalgia. The association between the music and the sight of snow, Christmas lights, and colorfully-wrapped presents is impossible to shake, even after youve concluded that we might have been better off had The Little Drummer Boy had impaled the Jesus-baby with one of his sticks.

A whole week off school to play with toys and go sledding? Forget Pavlov and his dogs. Try The Raving Atheist and ғHolly Jolly Christmas.

No doubt. The entry continues on to talk about how he’s been tuned into the station playing Christmas carols since they started doing it and could only be happier if they had started sooner. I’ve been known to break out my Christmas CDs when traveling alone in my car at the first hint of colder weather in September. By the the time Christmas actually gets here I can be pretty insufferable in my geekiness. Here in the Detroit area I discovered that WNIC started playing Christmas songs sometime before Thanksgiving and it’s the only radio station outside of NPR I’ve bothered to tune in for literally months because of it.

TRA goes on to point out that the lack of multiculturalism to be found during the holiday season decried by the Newsday writer is due largely in part to the lack of a market around the other holidays that are supposedly associated with this time of year. Too true.

But what about those darn pesky religious songs such as Silent Night and Do You Hear What I Hear? For the most part they don’t bother me and in many cases, Silent Night in particular, I find them to be quite wonderful songs that I will happily sing along to regardless of any religious significance. I’ve always associated Silent Night with images of sleepy snow-covered villages at night full of slumbering kids waiting for Santa to come swooping in.

Whatever the intent of the songs happen to be, my personal associations for them are many happy childhood memories of Christmas trees and eggnog and wondering what was in all the presents under the tree and seeing relatives and friends we hadn’t seen in awhile. Anything that stirs those happy memories is a good thing be it the smell of sugar cookies baking in the oven to O’ Come All Ye Faithful sung by Bing Crosby on the radio.

25 thoughts on “Christmas music and the atheist.

  1. Growing up in the ultra-religious household that I did and currently being an agnostic does present some conflicts.  It doesn’t, however, spill over into music.  I can truly enjoy all of my favorite hymns from my childhood right next to my favorite monster ballad.  Just because I don’t believe what they’re saying doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.  I love the Christmas season most of all.  It’s the lights and presents and overall sense of wonder that surrounds the holiday – it’s a child’s holiday and we, as adults, can all become children again.  Most of what brings it all home for me is the music.  There’s nothing like it!

  2. Chirstmas music is great… it has such a different sound to it. One of my favorite songs is Mary Did you know. It isn’t for the words but the sound I can’t help to sign along even though I am not Christian.

    And the peppy wintery songs like Let it snow! People can so enjoy music for the sound regardless of the meaning behind it.  There are many examples out there.

  3. Being an atheist, I might as well comment as well. I love christmas. When I was a kid my family was in the military so what made it evan more special was that December was the month we always returned from a tour. So Christmas was also about coming home and it still feels this way.  Even though now I am an adult I can enjoy the thrill the holiday brings my nephews and nieces. On Christmas eve we bake cookies that are shaped in all kinds of Christmas themes and then decorate them. We go all out. I am an artist so I can’t resist pushing their creativity and try to get them to think “outside the box.” I evan use tweezers to properly place the sprinkles and such. It is one of my times to bond with them and share a tradition that goes back to my childhood.
    As for music, one of my favorite songs is “God rest ye merry gentlemen.” as well as anything sung by Nat King Cole. When I was younger and working at Tower Books I would play his Christmas album anytime during the year. It drove the customers nuts and they would constantly tell me, “did you know there is Christmas music on?” They wouldn’t believe I actually loved the album. Instead they thought it was some kind of conspiracy to get them to buy more.  Of course telling me that did make playing it evan more enjoyable.

  4. Christmas music brings back such wonderful memories for me.  In high school I sang in what they called a triple trio. When it came time to sing ‘O Holy Night’ I would pour my heart out on the phrase “Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angels singing” I could just reach the high notes being an alto(almost baritone) in range. Now some 50 years later I still croak along on every song I can remember the words to.  Music makes the season even more enjoyable I feel!

  5. Being of the pagan persuasion myself, I too enjoy this time of year – the music, too.
    “Feliz Navidad (I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas” always strikes a chord with me, cuz my mother loves that song and would always break out in song right along with it.
    I love the old Rankin and Bass animation-toons -“Rudolph”, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, etc) and was tickled when, the other day, “One foot in front of the other” was playing over the musak in a store we were shopping.
    My mother, being Catholic and my Dad an Agnostic, never forced the religious angle on me or my brother (who is an atheist). It was and always has been about giving and family. I still enjoy it for those reasons.
    It was only last year that my mother finally learned that the use of “Xian” and “Xmas” are NOT sacreligious, but have roots in Christianity itself (my bro and I took the opportunity to also let her know that Dec 25 is NOT Jesus’ birthday, but was designated by the church to make it easier to reel in the pagans on the solstice celebrations). Good times. Good times.

  6. A good point is that this music is wedded to our collective memories of Christmas no matter what your religious persuasion. Hearing religious music this time of year evokes feelings of safety and warmth and excitement. Come on, even atheist enjoy getting and giving presents!

    However, as a person that has some musical talent (ok very little, but it’s there) the fact is that hymns can be some of the most magnificent music of all, esp. if your taste run to classical. Much more important to me than “Is this praising God?” is “Is this music good?”. Songs like Silent Night, O’ Holy Night, Handel’s Messiah…well the list goes on and on…are exceptional pieces of music in their own right.

  7. I feel the same way!  I always wondered if perhaps I might be considered truely nuts for liking Xmas music, but the religious references are after all, a part of the mythology of the xmas story.  (I just wish grown ups could explain it to kids that way)
    Ring christmas bells, hark the herald angels sing, God rest ye merry gentlemen…they sound great, dramatic, heck, I know most of the words.  My daughter (8,a godless heathen like me) sings in the choir with school for xmas; today they are at an old folks home, belting out religious tunes, but she understands the distiction I make, makes it herself, and loves to sing.  I think it’s cool.

  8. Thanks for expressing it so well smile

    As an atheist, there are several things that strike me different than most of my family, especially marriages and funerals.  Ugh.

    However, I have always enjoyed Christmas carols.  I used to be in band / choir, and did several musicals … even wandered neighborhoods with our school choir caroling.  It brings back fond memories, and I find no reason to be militant about my beliefs.  It’s one of the things I find irritating about theists, actually.

    I’d have linked this (Trackback) to an article in my blog, but it’s mainly about Gamers and Technophiles, and I’d already linked one of your other excellent articles earlier today smile

    Keep up the good work! 

    And, by the way, “Let is snow!” usually doesn’t work in San Diego, but we still sing it smile


  9. No Am, you’re not nuts. Religion has inspired some great art of all kinds. Appreciation of the art doesn’t necessarily require an appreciation of what it represents. For example, I find the architecture behind many of the great cathedrals to be both beautiful and amazing.

  10. As the radio stations around here have been playing the same Christmas songs for the past ten years, I can’t help but recall good memories when I hear one!  Like Les, I also tend to break out the Christmas music on the first chill day after August…because the cold is on it’s way, I love the cold, and the music helps build the anticipation so I better appreciate the holiday moments when they finally arrive.  Aside from all the associations, I think Dominion and Les make a very good point above, that a lot of the holiday music is popular to so many not because of its lyrical message, but because it’s just good music.  To me the arts are best appreciated as a higher form of language, a way to bring out or recall emotional responses that normal words just can’t adequately do.  So what better way to portray the holiday spirit, generosity and comfort and hope and cheer (arguably some of the finer qualities of human beings), than in song?

  11. First, let it be known that I myself am a godless heathen… (You stole my logo Am… grrr…) 😉

    Second, hey Etan… when exactly did being Jewish change from a religion to a Race or Nationality? I’m sorry if that sounds like a snear remark, but I’ve always wondered that. Watch the History Channel sometime and listen to how Jewish is used as a noun instead of an adjective… or something like that. I’m not quite sure, I never cared for the finer points of the English language (I’ve always thought the strict standards took the voice out of a good paper).

  12. I just came across this site and think so far it’s pretty interesting. I’m a life-long atheist and hate christmas music with a passion. I haven’t figured out why I still enjoy gospel and other religious music though.

  13. I am a Roman Catholic and believe all NON-CHRISTIANS shall not listen to Christian songs or merelyu celebrate the Christian Holidays and pretend it’s all about Santa and other things. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of GOD. So fuck all you jewish cocksuckers.

  14. Patrick, your savior must be SO proud of you.  Do you accept communion with that mouth?

  15. I’m an Atheist and I like most Christmas songs. I also like most religious movies like “The Seventh Sign.” I also like “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Clash of the Titans,” and “Lord of the Rings.” That doesn’t mean I’m gonna start worshiping Zeus on Mount Olympus or start believing in Elves and Orcs! I see it as just another form of fantasy art. Most atheists originated from some type of religion, so we know the details. That kind of helps us enjoy the storyline of a lot of these movies and songs. Just enjoy them. It doesn’t mean you’re re-converting or joining a religion.

  16. im just looking fo funny versions of christmas charols (preferably those that use profanity and such)

  17. I’m an agnostic Wiccan, and wholeheartedly agree, though x-mas carols can become ould and stale, I do enjoy themthe first thousand times each x-mas season. I’d like to point out to Patrick, though “Christmas” is about the birth of jesus, it was not his birthday. If December 25 werehis birthday, the animals would have been in the cave, and there would have been food in the manger or whatever it was they put him in. His birthday is estamated to have been in march. The christian priests of ould did not know when his birthday was, and they wanted to convert tha largely pagan community to christianity, so to make it an easier change they modled many holidays after pagan holidays. Christmas is modled after Yule, A holiday that is on the winter solstice that is about celebrating life in the winter months.They also exchanged presents on that day.

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