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Rationals Admin on 11 Dec 2006 07:21 pm

Do rational people need a holiday symbol?

There is a lot of religious celebration and symbology that happens in December. Christians mark December 25 for their celebration of Christ’s birth. Their official symbol is the nativity display. Jews have Hanukkah, “celebrated on eight successive days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar,” [ref] which almost always falls in December. The official symbol of Hanukkah is the Menorah. There’s also Kwanzaa, celebrated on 7 days starting on December 26th. Kwanzaa’s symbols include ears of corn and candles.

But there is also the “Holiday Season” in the secular sense. Its official symbols include Santa, Rudolf, decorated evergreens, Mistletoe, etc. This secular holiday now overshadows all of the religious holidays, and many retailers go so far as to avoid all religious symbology as well as the use of the word “Christmas” in their advertising, store displays, etc.

Rational people participate in this secular “season”. Many (most?) rational people put up trees and lights, exchange gifts, etc. Why do we participate? Because the Holiday Season is a great tradition. The idea of giving presents to other people is cool. The idea of gathering with family and friends is cool. The idea of approximately a week-long lull between December 25 and January 1 is cool. If you have children, all the festivities around the decorations, the songs, the food, the parties, the stories (Rudolf, Frosty, etc.), and then opening a pile of presents on the morning of December 25 is cool. And all of it is secular.

But, to my knowledge, there is no official symbol that rationals/atheists call their own during the Holiday Season. Is it time for us to change that? Do we need an official symbol for the rational cause? If so, What should our symbol be?

One approach would be to appropriate an existing symbol and call it our own. The Holiday Tree, complete with ornaments and lights, is one symbol for us to consider using. This symbol has many advantages. It is a symbol that is already widely used and deeply entrenched. It is neutral in connotation. In addition, the Holiday Tree is currently unattached to any group — no religious group lays any significant claim to this symbol.

How do we make it our symbol? We simply announce that the Holiday Tree is the official holiday symbol of rational people. Our message is straightforward: By displaying our symbol – the Holiday Tree – you indicate your knowledge that God is imaginary. Our symbol indicates that you are celebrating the “Holiday Season” rather than “The birth of Christ” (or any other religious event).

Christians cannot complain about this, because the tree has nothing to do with their religious observations. Neither can Jews nor Kwanzaans. The Holiday tree is currently unattached, so we claim it as our own. If Christians do not want to display the symbol of rational people in their homes, they simply will not put up Holiday Trees.

What are your thoughts?

24 Responses to “Do rational people need a holiday symbol?”

  1. on 11 Dec 2006 at 10:08 pm 1.Jimson said …

    Why would atheists celebrate anything?

  2. on 12 Dec 2006 at 1:28 am 2.Theresa said …

    I have often struggled with the fact that I am a strong Atheist, but continue to take part in Christmas – a word that so blatantly boasts Christ. I can’t deny the fact that it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. One simply can’t escape the nostalgia, being exposed to decorations, great food, and of course presents for the entirety of their impressionable years. As I developed into a young adult, I realized that the answer is to embrace these harmless events and to make them my own. To strip them of any religious connotations. Hell, it’s not as though Christmas isn’t already a frenzy of useless gifting and booming consumerism.

    I love your site and what you do for humanity. Thank you.

  3. on 12 Dec 2006 at 3:49 am 3.a2planet said …

    I think people will interpret “holiday trees” as “Christmas trees,” even if the intended meaning is atheist or secular. It’s a nice thought, that we could “take over” the tree, but not realistic. People would just assume our trees were Christian, not that they indicate that we know god is imaginary. See this article, for example, where one rabbi threatened to sue an airport for having trees in it but no 8-foot menorah:


    I’m not really into symbols, but if I had to pick a symbol for the season, I’d nominate the fireplace. Or maybe the couch.

    Whatever the symbol, see that it isn’t a Secular Corporate Mafia symbol–the shopping cart, wrapping paper, TV screen, the VISA logo, etc.

  4. on 12 Dec 2006 at 8:16 am 4.Aida said …

    Hi everybody,
    I’m not atheist as you, but I’m enjoying your blog, this wish that you all seem to have to be released of some heavy thing that shouldn’t be there… If you do not mind, I’ll continue to appear and participate :-)
    For now I’d like to provide a little explanation: the tree is a symbol, like many others, that we humans decided to use along our history giving it lots of meanings. In central Europe, germanic people used to burn trees to the gods during a certain winter party. A Christian Bishop (about the VIII century) proposed that the tree – the pine tree, in fact – instead of being burned, could be decorated and offered to the baby Jesus during the celebrations of his birth. The evergreen tree was interpreted as a symbol of ressurection, of a life with no end, that we all deeply desire. Thit is the origin of this tradition, so deeply connected to religion (pagan, first and christian, then).

  5. on 12 Dec 2006 at 2:06 pm 5.Kevin said …


    I agree with “a2planet” that a holiday tree will just be considered a Christmas tree. As an atheist, I am satisfied not being a member of one of these religious clubs – with all of their strange traditions and historical baggage. As Sam Harris wrote in “The End of Faith”, there shouldn’t even be a title “atheist”, no more than there should be a title for someone who doesn’t being in astrology and so forth.

    But, if I have to choose a symbol, I’ve always be partial to the peace sign. We also already have that “Jesus fish” symbol with the name Darwin inside of it. Lastly, I also am a big fan of the Flying Spagetti Monster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster),, which is a fun symbol.

    Anyway, thanks for the site.

  6. on 12 Dec 2006 at 2:24 pm 6.Court said …

    I think a symbol simply won’t happen. Christmas has already been nearly stripped of all religious significance in popular culture anyway. Even in my parents’ house (They’re Christian), the most religion we get around Christmas time is the thirty-minute Christmas Eve service at their church. Christmas, for me, is a time for no classes (relaxing from finals), no work, family, good food (I make these sour cream cookies that you would literally give up sex for), and presents. I love buying presents for people, so Christmas is wonderful for me.

    I do particularly hate the word Christmas with its obvious religion, though. Instead of a symbol, we should just rename it into something more secular. It could be a separate holiday altogether, even, just celebrated on the same day as Christmas, sans Jesus. It could have all the same symbols: trees, snowmen, and Santa.

  7. on 12 Dec 2006 at 4:21 pm 7.Shane said …

    Atheist – Definition:


    Wow. What have I been missing all of these years. You have really cleared it all up for me. I was such a fool. Now can live the rest of my life and know that when I die nothing will happen. Whew! What a relief.

  8. on 12 Dec 2006 at 5:34 pm 8.Joe said …

    I agree with Court. It is mostly a secular holiday. Christmas is celebrated in non christian nations like China and Japan. You do not see the droves converting so they can exchange gifts at the end of the year. I say keep secularizing it and everyone will be happy, except the fundies.

  9. on 13 Dec 2006 at 8:37 am 9.Kevin said …

    Christian – Definition:


    Wow. You really miss the point. It’s not your fault, Shane. Everything and everyone in your life has been beating religion into your head since you were born. Some of us can see through this, others never will.

  10. on 13 Dec 2006 at 1:34 pm 10.Yanging said …

    Prayer is answered by those who do not doubt. Every human has doubt. Miracles are the answers of prayers, when god steps in. When you quote one part of the bible in these “studies” make sure you include the other verses behind it.

  11. on 14 Dec 2006 at 3:42 pm 11.Happy Evolute said …

    The winter solstice is a real event, it really happens. It is the time when the Sun begins to climb up the sky again. There is nothing supernatural about, it is compeletely explained by the tilt of the Earth’s spin with respect to the plane of its orbit. It is a good excuse for a celebration. Why not celebrate?

    The birth of Jesus never happened, and we live in the 2006th year since nothing happened. That really isn’t worth celebrating.

  12. on 16 Dec 2006 at 2:09 am 12.Shii said …

    Just call it a Christmas tree. There’s no shame in acknowledging something’s religious origins.

    You can have a Yule log, too.

  13. on 17 Dec 2006 at 3:49 pm 13.Captain Jack Sparrow said …

    I like that idea, I always wanted a “Holiday” symbol of the rationals. For those who think, “No no stop whining, and just live with it.” Are the types who would still be slaves if it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, they are ones who are fine with the supression, but won’t have any sympathy for those who want change.

    Change is good, we all know that. Why is it bad that we also want something to celebrate the sweet idea of Holidays?

    I want to do this, partly because I know there will be whiny christians saying, that’s wrong! How could we start this, and when could we do it is what I want to know. Do it this Holiday season while the idea is fresh?

  14. on 17 Dec 2006 at 11:52 pm 14.Gwen said …

    Hmm. I don’t think we’ll be able to “reclaim” the big green tree decked with lights and ornaments and possibly tinsel and a star on top with presents underneath. (I’ll leave reclaiming Yuletide to Wiccans, anyway.) So I think it’d be better to look elsewhere for appropriate symbols.
    Three of my favorite symbols are candles, bonfires, and bells. Candles are kinda already taken at this time of year; they’re used in Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. And where I live (the United States) not enough (zero) celebrations include bonfires, which are lots of fun to make. (Not encouraged where illegal or unsafe, obviously.) Bells used to be associated with Christmas rather more than they are today, so we might be able to use them.
    And it’s easy enough to create after-the-fact justifications for the symbols: “the clear flame of rationality” fits for fire, and bells, um, something about their clear tone or the music of reason or whatever. Folk explanations will come up after the fact if they catch on, anyway, right?

    “Prayer is answered by those who do not doubt. Every human has doubt. Miracles are the answers of prayers, when god steps in. When you quote one part of the bible in these “studies” make sure you include the other verses behind it.”
    Kinda cheating, isn’t it? “Prayers only work if impossible conditions are met” isn’t a very good argument for prayer’s effectiveness. On the other hand, if belief in its effectiveness is all that’s required (like, you know, Jesus actually *said*), we could get James Dobson or the Pope to prove the power of prayer for us. Or, since you only need the faith of a mustard seed for prayer to work, and since a mustard seed has no brain or soul it’s pretty much guaranteed that any human can out-faith one, any human–even an atheist with an inkling of “well, maybe…” in the back of her mind–could walk on water and move mountains. Why not?

  15. on 19 Dec 2006 at 5:29 am 15.Joseph said …

    The reason for the season is the winter solstice which inspired many celebrations all over the world throughout history. Some Christians appropriated this time of year to compete with other previously established festivals, and Christmas, as we know it today, has taken on some of what were formally pagan symbols such as the decorated tree.

    No one knows when Jesus (if he existed) was born, so it was convenient to pick a time of year that any god-man worth his salt was said to have been born.

    As far as symbols for atheists go, the atom is probably the most generally recognized, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from picking some others.

    As far as atheist/secular versions of Christmas, there are some who celebrate this time of year with something called Human Light, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from starting something else.

    So, here is my Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays message to all….

    Here’s Wishing Everyone A Very Merry…

    Zagmuk/Sacaea/Saturnalia/Yuletide/Sankranti/Brumalia/Dies Natalis Solis Invicti/Hanukkah/Alban Arthuan/Midwinter/Finn’s Day/Festival of Sol/Festival of the New Sun/Festival of Growth/Great Day of the Cauldron/Dong Zhi/Nollaig/Juul/Jul/Jiueis/Jol/Joulu/Joulupukki/Children’s Day/Festival of Kronos/Kallikantzaroi/Karkantzaroi/Dazh Boh/Chaomos/Inti Raymi/Soyal/Sada/Touji/Geol/Feailly Geul/Modra-niht/Giuli/Iol/J–lm^nu_r/Shass Greiney Geuree/Yn Ad-Gheurey/Divalia/Larentalia/Sigillaria/Midvinterblot/Touji/if Inti Raymi/Shabe-Yalda/Sviatki/Koleda/Choimus/Soyalangwul/Diwali/Sadeh/Adur-Jashan/Maidyarem/Shab e Cheleh/Novo Hel/Nollaig/Pongal/Modranetc/Yalda/Karachun/St. Thomas’ Day/Christmas (Xmas)/The Festival of the Long Night/Wintervil/Zamenhof Day/Festivus/Human Light/Chrismukkah/Giftmas/Newtonmas/Kwanzaa/Boxing Day/Lenaea (Festival of the Wild Women).

    And a very happy birthday to Adonia, Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, Theseus, Jesus, and King Arthur.

  16. on 19 Dec 2006 at 8:03 am 16.Stuart said …

    Since the point is to pick something that represents the holiday season but that has no connection to Christ, why not Santa Claus?

    Yes, I know the St.Nicholas connection, but if we choose to take Santa Claus as the fat magic guy who lives at the North Pole and gives everyone presents, I think it would be okay.

    I can’t imagine how Christians could object either – presumably to them he’s a false idol…..

  17. on 19 Dec 2006 at 11:20 pm 17.Shii said …


    HOLIDAY TREE – Many salvoes were fired during this past season’s “war on Christmas.” At the risk of jumping into the breach, the committee feels that “Holiday tree” is a silly name for what most folks hold as a Christmas tree, no matter your preference of religion. Thank goodness we all agree on the first day of winter.

  18. on 23 Dec 2006 at 7:13 pm 18.L6 said …

    This year my friends started a grand new tradition. They bought a Christmas tree and took it down to the beach and lit it on fire. Biggest bonfire they ever had. That’s something I’m totally down with–using fire to celebrate the birth of science and the death of superstition.

  19. on 23 Dec 2006 at 7:41 pm 19.Sam said …

    For L6:

    NIST Christmas tree fire

    Christmas tree bonfire

  20. on 22 Jan 2007 at 12:45 am 20.Mattstarrs said …

    Sounds typical of most things atheist. Only able define itself by references already in religion.

    What is the attraction for atheists that they desire religious symbolism?

    Perhaps it is that atheism is a religion after all.

  21. on 22 Jan 2007 at 10:02 am 21.Mushinronjya said …

    Matt says:
    “Perhaps it is that atheism is a religion after all.”

    If you had enough brains to look up the definition of “religion”, you wouldn’t make yourself seem so ignorant by stating the above.

    Is bald a hair color?

  22. on 22 Jan 2007 at 3:20 pm 22.Mattstarrs said …

    No, but if you shave your head it is a hair style.

  23. on 22 Jan 2007 at 3:22 pm 23.Mushinronjya said …

    So your answer is no, good.
    That’s what I thought.

    By the way, bald isn’t really a style of hair.
    It’s the absence of hair.

  24. on 22 Jan 2007 at 3:28 pm 24.Mattstarrs said …

    Actually, if you choose it, it’s a hair style.

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