Join Donate

Having a ‘godless’ Christmas: Famous humanists share how they celebrate Christmas

Long before Christianity, humans across Europe have gathered together at the darkest and coldest time of the year to feast and appreciate each other’s company.

For most people in Britain, Christmas isn’t about going to church or celebrating Jesus but about spending time with family, giving presents, and enjoying food and drink.

Sometimes the charge is levelled at humanists that to celebrate Christmas is hypocritical, but this time of year has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with celebrating the life we have with the people we love.

Humanists find meaning, beauty and joy in the one life we have, without the need to believe in an afterlife or find meaning through a holy book.

On Christmas Day for those of us who are lucky enough, we’ll have the Christmas tree up, have the lights twinkling and we’ll be enjoying a feast with loved ones.

Here, five famous humanists share what Christmas means to them.

Ariane Sherine

What does Christmas mean to you?

For me these days, it’s primarily about my eight-year-old daughter. I throw a kids’ Christmas party for her and her friends each year, and Santa rings the doorbell and brings them lots of presents. It’s a chance to see her smiling and enjoying herself, and to get together in the warm with lots of other people. It’s a very joyous occasion.

What do you do on Christmas day?

This year I’m spending Christmas with my daughter and her adopted grandad. We’ll have a vegetarian dinner and eat lots of chocolate in

front of a great Christmas film. We have two real Christmas trees and lots of decorations. It’s really festive and all about having fun with family.

Can a humanist celebrate Christmas and remain true to their beliefs?

Absolutely! Christmas was originally a pagan festival and has been co-opted by Christians anyway, and is all about enjoying light and warmth at the time of the winter solstice. This totally fits in with humanism: when it’s cold and dark outside, it’s very natural to want to alleviate that and celebrate togetherness with the people you love.

Have other people criticised you for celebrating Christmas as a non-religious person? How do you respond?

Not in my everyday life. Most people of my generation are non-religious anyway, so their Christmas is generally as godless as mine!

Jim Al – Khalili 

What does Christmas mean to you?

It means making my annual batch of coffee fudge (now perfected), and it means admiring the Christmas tree that my wife is always in charge of, while calming her down when the tree lights inevitably don’t work once they have been draped round the tree when she swears they were fine when she tested them earlier. It means above all coordinating family get-togethers with my adult children and their partners and with my siblings and their families. It means buying far too much food, most of which is hugely unhealthy but excused because ‘oh, well, it is Christmas’.

What do you do on Christmas day?

Despite my children now having grown up and flown the nest, there is still something magical about Christmas morning – bacon rolls for breakfast, opening presents and waiting for people to arrive. Always an ample supply of mulled wine and mince pies of course.

Can a humanist celebrate Christmas and remain true to their beliefs?

I have never really understood this question. I grew up in Iraq, to a Christian mother and Muslim father. We celebrated Eid and Christmas. So for me there was no religious connotations to either. Christmas for me was associated with the new year, the school half year holidays and presents. Yes we always had a tree and I’d even play carols on the piano, but that was all part of the cultural fun.

Have other people criticised you for celebrating Christmas as a non-religious person? How do you respond?

No, but this may be to do with them mistaking me for a Muslim! Or maybe it’s just that I don’t tend to know many people silly enough to think that Christmas was invented to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Paul Sinha 

What do you do on Christmas day?

Apart from 1976 I’ve spent every Christmas of my life with my Mum & Dad and to me Christmas is the time of year where the family indisputably and unconditionally spends quality time with each other. I don’t think there is anything I could do in life that could break my parents’ hearts more than not be around for Christmas.

Christmas Day is spent at my sister’s home as she and her husband doggedly try and juggle the duties of cooking an exquisite Christmas dinner and entertaining a slightly dysfunctional family unit.

Can a humanist celebrate Christmas and remain true to their beliefs?

I’m a son of atheist Hindus who celebrate every Hindu festival going. I consider myself an atheist who enjoys any opportunity for family and friends to appreciate each other’s company. Just because I don’t believe in a Biblical God doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the cultural richness that religions have brought. I think people are free to experience Christmas in any way they choose and shouldn’t feel pressured by other people’s definitions.

Sally Le Page

What does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas is all about family traditions, and now my family is split across continents, it’s one of the few times each year we’re all together. Christmas is good food, cheesy music, and planning thoughtful gifts. It’s something to look forward to during the cold and dark winter months.

Can a humanist celebrate Christmas and remain true to their beliefs?

Of course! Let’s face it, Christmas is hardly a religious affair any more in this country, and only has to be as religious as you want to make it. My sister and I both went to Christian schools and so we have a home made nativity scene which alongside the ass and the ox has accumulated a penguin, a blue giraffe, a wobbly moose, a magi holding Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion and a tiny “I ♡ Darwin” poster. Most Christians I know don’t actually believe that a woman was visited by an angel, got pregnant without sex, was forced to travel to her husband’s place of birth for a Roman census, ended up giving birth in a stable on exactly the 25th December, and were met by three wise men. If you want a day to celebrate that, go ahead. But there are plenty of other parts of Christmas you can celebrate without the “Christ” bit.

Have other people criticised you for celebrating Christmas as a non-religious person? How do you respond?

You’d have to be a real grinch to try to deny someone a chance to celebrate in the bleak midwinter! We all need to take any opportunity we can to get together and celebrate family and friendship, even more so in recent times. If someone ever said I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas as a non-religious person, I’d probably give them a hug and a mince pie.

Catie Wilkins

What does Christmas mean to you?

It means I get to watch to The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf and Die Hard again. Spending time with friends and family, appreciating each other and how lucky we are, and remembering to donate or help as much as possible to people in need. Also, parties, food, presents; all that razzle dazzle. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

What do you do on Christmas day?

It starts by 6am if we’re lucky. (There’s a four year old and a two year old involved). The kids get to open the presents Santa left them. Then cooking/ eating/ playing/ food/ champagne/ chocolate/ dog walks. Lunch. The Queens speech (my family will insist on that). Then everyone can open their tree presents, assuming they’re still awake.

Can a humanist celebrate Christmas and remain true to their beliefs?

Of course. Christianity doesn’t ‘own’ Christmas. They are the current reigning champions of the festival previously known as Yuletide/Odin/Mōdraniht/Mithras. And good on them. They’ve put in the work, and the rewards are there.

Have other people criticised you for celebrating Christmas as a non-religious person? How do you respond?

No one springs to mind. The Christians I know have always been very welcoming. I’ve been to Midnight Mass with my husband’s family and no one minded about what I really believe, they were just pleased that we came.

Search Humanists UK