Question Of The Day: Opting Out?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An open forum for folks who don't celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. How do you survive the so-called holiday season if you don't celebrate these holidays? Comment below!

Comments [56]


A complete non-issue for me. I am a curmudgeon 365 days a year.

Dec. 23 2008 09:33 PM
Richard Walker from San Francisco, CA

I'm an atheist who doesn't lack a sense of humor. This year for Xmas I will travel to visit my sister and we will shop for items on sale, for her daughters, and two infant grandchildren. They have been living under the poverty line for over a decade.

Perhaps she's just a little ahead of the curve... Still, I'm glad to be in the position to help in whatever small way.

I'm also happy to provide the likes of O'Reilly with the spectre of a "Ban on Chistmas."

Happy Festivus, let the airing of grievances begin!

Dec. 23 2008 03:02 PM
Liz from NY

For familys that do exchange presents, while not ideal, i wonder if it would be better to be laid off before christmas and plan the holiday knowing that, rather than purchasing gifts that they might not buy if they know they don't have the next pay check coming.

Dec. 23 2008 12:56 PM

Right around the holidays is the time to axe people because the companies don't have to pay out yearly bonuses.

Dec. 23 2008 12:44 PM
Marc S. from New Jersey

My first Christmas...
Growing up in a very liberal Jewish environment this time of year was always difficult for me. I sometimes felt I was betraying my parents and my heritage by enjoying the idea of Christmas and the traditions as presented by one of my Christian friends. Then while in Israel on a "secular" tour my group visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we were given a tour by a Priest. This was a very moving event for me and I decided to learn more about Christianity when I got back home. And after I sorted out the differences between the Protestant and Apostolic Churches, I did further reading and finally enrolled in Roman Catholic initiation where I received Confirmation and Communion this past Easter. So this is my "first" Christmas where I have a real feeling for the true meaning of the season and I feel sorry for the others here who like me at one time, saw it only as a secular marketing opportunity. I can only suggest they go to Mass this Christmas and behold the beauty, solemnity and the fellowship.

Dec. 23 2008 12:25 PM
hjs from 11211

but the jokes on u, as u waste all those sunday hours they are enjoying their time off, well just those who get off on sunday.

Dec. 23 2008 12:06 PM
David (another one) from Manhattan

I'm so sick of Xmas.
Every year, the xmas season gets longer and longer, more and more saccharine, and more money-grubbing.

Dec. 23 2008 11:59 AM
John from Washington, DC

Thanksgiving isn't that much less of a religious holiday in this country than Christmas. When I was growing up we'd go on Thanksgiving to our Episcopal church and follow a service in the prayerbook thanking God for sending our ancestors to settle this country. Non-Christians including atheists have managed to embrace this holiday nonetheless.

Dec. 23 2008 11:59 AM
Robert from NYC

It's true seems layoffs always happen this time of year. I never understood it. it IS like a slap in the face, Natalie is right.

Dec. 23 2008 11:59 AM
hjs from 11211

it's christmas based on a pagan holiday anyway

Dec. 23 2008 11:58 AM
Sanjana from Queens, NY

The woman that called saying she was a Buddhist does not really speak for Asian Buddhist.
1. The biggest Buddhist Holiday is called Vesak. It is the May full moon, and it conmemorates the birth, enlightment and death of Lord Buddha.

2. While most of us will happily make use of the days off of work, and exchange gifts they may not participate in the exercise in mass consumption that she described.

Dec. 23 2008 11:57 AM
marc from manhattan

i wish i could get out of town from nov 10 until jan 10. i look at those people as alians just like when normal looking people end up walking around with ash on their forhead and think it ok to do this one time a year. you need an excuse to be nice?

Dec. 23 2008 11:57 AM
Anne from Manhattan

I just convereted to Judiasm this year and love the Jewish holidays (Passover, Rosh Hashana, etc). I was disappointed to learn that Hanukkah is not a big deal for a lot of Jews. I miss the cultural and seasonal stuff for December. I'm trying to communicate to my husband that people expect Holiday cards and tips and cookies... it's not all that much about the religious side of the holiday as the FUN TIME!

Dec. 23 2008 11:56 AM

I celebrate with other people who usually celebrate xmas. Tho I'm an atheist and pastafarian so I don't do the prayer churchy thing. I also go against the commercialization of this holiday (if I get gifts I do it during the really good after holiday sales). I did bake cookies this year.

There no real pastafarian holidays around this time of year, so if we do a feast of the winter solstice.

Dec. 23 2008 11:55 AM
John-Paul G from Elizabeth, NJ

1) Happy Festivus

2) Is it bad that, I devout Catholic, take an enormous amount of pleasure of watching calendar catholics or other visitors show up on holidays (calendar days), pack up the church to a capacity rarely used and look around completely lost without any idea of what to do inside this funny building with candles and stain glass? I find it ever so amusing.

Dec. 23 2008 11:54 AM
Alden from Inwood

Santa certainly looks like a Buddha to me. ;)

Dec. 23 2008 11:54 AM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

I am airing my grievances right here:

And otherwise I mix the holidays - especially Xmas and Festivus. Someone get the pole out of the crawl space.

Dec. 23 2008 11:49 AM
eligit from astoria

"as i rained blows upon him....there must be another way"

ah, seinfeld....endlessly hilarious.

let the airing of grievances begin!!

Dec. 23 2008 11:48 AM
Jeff Strate from Eden Prairie, MN

During the holidays when I lived in New York, I'd explore parts of the city and Long Island on a series of exploratories. I'd take subways from my Upper East side neighborhood into the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. I'd select stops by whim, walk around to get the lay of the terrain and would at some point choose a saloon, diner or restaurant to hang out in for an hour or more.

I'd soak up bits of conversations from other tables and converse with other customers, wait help and bartenders. My world was expanded. My holiday season was spent with The Family of Man in parts New York few have ever heard of. I was blessed.

Dec. 23 2008 11:47 AM
Alex from Park Slope

I am an Orthodox Christian and celebrate Christmas according to the Julian Calendar on January 7 and New Years (also a religious holiday) on January 14. These holidays were always religious observances. We gave gifts to children on St. Nicholas Day (December 19). This is not to be confused with the hispanic "Little Christmas" of January 6 (the 12th day of Christmas).

It is sad for us "old calendar" Christians to watch the commercialism that has occurred during this holiday which has been a religious holiday since the Roman Empire accepted Christianity under Constantine the Great (also the father of civil law), but since we celebrate after every one else there are certain benefits; when I was young, my mother, for example, always bought our Christmas tree on December 26 at a deep discount.

Celebrating these holidays and the preparatory days before them require long, multi-hour church services (usually standing. bowing and kneeling - no siting allowed! - with choral music, incense and lit only by beeswax candles and filled with litanies of prayers that seem often more like Buddhist chanting that what is known as Christian workshop), vespers, midnight services and then morning Divine Liturgy after the traditional Advent fasting period ended by a Christmas eve traditional meat free dinner (often held communally in the church hall). No presents are given, but Christmas and New Years are both days of family dinners of traditional dishes and visiting close friends. These Christmas and New Years Day traditions have not changed in one thousand years, though now most go to church by car and not by horse drawn carriage.

Dec. 23 2008 11:46 AM
Aradna Chauhan from New York

A story a muslim friend told me many years back really moved me. She found her kids dressing up a house plant as though it was a christmas tree, they were so scared of their parents reaction that they had it hidden inside a closet in their room. They told her they found it hard in school to tell everyone that they did nothing at all for the holidays. We are hindus but that should not stop us from participating in the festivities of any religion, my kids do not observe the religious part of the holiday, but they really enjoy christmas, they set up a tree and we exchange gifts. In today's world, I want them to grow up being able to feel that they can share something with all religions.

Dec. 23 2008 11:46 AM
Christi from Peekskill, NY

Personally, my partner and I don't celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, though our families celebrate Christmas. We practice a more earth based spirituality (neo-pagan), so we celebrate Yule on the Winter Solstice. On the 21st or 22nd of December we take a day out of the insanity of the holiday season and prepare for the longest night of the year. We bake bread, start a slow simmering meal and exchange gifts. The sun sets around 4:21 and, once the sun has gone down, the lights and electronics stay off for the night. The long, slow evening is a wonderful way to stop and remember what the holiday season is really all about- why so many cultures and religions have chosen this time of year for a celebration of life, light and renewal.

Dec. 23 2008 11:43 AM
hana from Scarsdale, NY

Though my husband is jewish, he is only culturally so because belief-wise he is an atheist. Though celebrating Chanukah could be fun, he can not have fun because the history of the Chanukah holiday is violence as per what the Maccabees did. One can be selective of what to culutrally support and not support. As a muslim, I don't celebrate anything because I am agnostic. I like this time of year because it is a good reason to avoid shopping centers and calm one's consumerism by observing the consumer insanity around me. It's a relief experiencing my freedom from the pressures of the holiday for most people. I don't feel I am missing out since for the most part I have not heard my celebrating friends speak of the holidays as positively as the commercial advertising suggests we feel. I enjoy the time as a time off from the world.

Dec. 23 2008 11:38 AM
Tom from DC

In my neighborhood in DC a business put up a Festivus For the Rest of Us kiosk at the corner of 18th & Columbia Rd!
Check it out:

Dec. 23 2008 11:37 AM
Paulo from New Jersey

An open forum for folks who don't celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. How do you survive the so-called holiday season if you don't celebrate these holidays?
How do you survive makes it seem like your life is over if you cannot celebrate it - very dramatic question. This is how you "survive" you wish a Happy Holidays to friends & co-workers who do celebrate it and don't tell them you don't really celebrate it - Thats it. If they really push you just say you are spending the "holidays" with family. Never had any problem with it yet. There is no reason to tell them anymore than that unless you want to make it more dramatic and cry that they don't understand me.

Dec. 23 2008 11:34 AM
steve from Jersey city

I am Buddhist and I use the holiday season to put extra effort into practicing the Buddhist virtue of generousity and compassion.

Dec. 23 2008 11:31 AM
Tamar from Cape Cod

I'd ask instead how you survive if you DO celebrate. My husband (an ex-Catholic) and I (an atheist Jew) opt out completely, and the season hasn't gone by when we haven't smugly congratulated ourselves on avoiding the endless shopping, serious expenditure, and time-consuming decorating.

Dec. 23 2008 11:29 AM
jtt from nyc


Dec. 23 2008 11:28 AM
Kathryn from Williamsburg

We celebrate New Year!

As Buddhists, when our son was born we were at a loss as to what to do and what to tell him about the holidays (we were both raised with the full-on Christmas experience). But withhold all the holiday “magic” from him? No presents? How could we?? Our solution: we celebrate the New Year as our “special” holiday… it is universally celebrated, secular, and in this way, he still has a day to look forward to for receiving presents (which as an added bonus we can get on sale after the Christmas madness is over); we have a reason that feels authentic for sending out greeting cards and wishing people well, and my son doesn’t feel left out of participating in the holiday season. This has had the added benefit of making me feel less like a Scrooge around this time of year as well…
Happy New Year everyone!

Dec. 23 2008 11:23 AM
Barb from NJ

The first post (Chris from NJ) could be me! I thought after moving here from the Midwest, that I would feel less "harassed" for not celebrating Christmas -- but I get just as appalled reactions -- I didn't feel deprived / bad / wrong before, but it takes a lot of energy to NOT feel bad in light of people's insistence that something is fundamentally horrible or pitiful about me.
I've "celebrated" the season for years with an act(s) of charity and humility: this year like last I will care for abused cats at the shelter and scoop litter / clean cages to make the staff's jobs faster (who do celebrate Christmas).

Dec. 23 2008 11:20 AM
Jane from New YOrk City

Our family is a non-militant mix of Jewish, Episcopalian, Quaker and Buddhist-inclined people, generally skeptical of Christmas consumerism and the emphasis on family, so we ease off by celebrating Dec.25 as Bah Humbug Day. An irreverant annual poem heightens the fun, which is the point.

Dec. 23 2008 11:16 AM
karen from valley cottage, NY

As the family grew and developed too many branches for them all to visit each other on Christmas Day, I developed my own holiday for the family--Yulblot. It's on the winter solstice, and everyone comes for a great feast, which is always interrupted by a scary wodwo--a wild, forest spirit who bursts in demanding a drink of hot glogg and providing delicious terror for the children! Everyone loves Yulblot, and it takes the pressure off trying to visit everyone on Christmas day.

Dec. 23 2008 11:08 AM
Jane Augustine from New YOrk City

We all in the northern hemisphere are celebrating the winter solstice, the change from increasing darkness to increasing light, with festivities of feasting, singing and dancing and gift-giving in communities and families. The so-called "holidays" (= holy days) are a late Christian addition to the earlier and more primal festival that celebrates the sustaining of life on earth. There is no problem. It's a natural development of human intelligence and spiritual aptitude to bring specific religious backgrounds into the mix.

Dec. 23 2008 11:01 AM
Patrick from west orange, nj

As a teenager, i was still a Christian, and was very annoyed by the gross commercialism and pressure to SPEND at christmas-time. But since I grew up, I became a Humanist and no longer believe in any supernatural beings. Christmas became just an "opt-out" for me; try to ignore all the hoola. But eight years ago a new Humanist winter holiday was created, called HumanLight. since then i've enjoyed celebrating Humanist values at HumanLight parties (on, or about Dec 23rd)! check out for more info!

Dec. 23 2008 10:59 AM
Waheed from Elmhurst, NY

These holidays are great time for us Muslims to get together as family and friends. Since most of us worked or were not able to take off during recent Eid Celebration. I think that Christmas holidays are just as enjoyable for non celebrators as for the celebrators, because the central theme remains the same. Bring families and friends together for a weekend, a day, a dinner and just enjoy.

Dec. 23 2008 10:57 AM
Brad from NJ from Princeton, NJ

My family and I celebrate Human Light, a winter celebration for Humanists. ( We just had our celebration on Saturday, where we had a concert, a great dinner, fun science presentations for the kids, and saw lots of Humanist families from around the area that we don't always see during the year. The celebration is not a Christmas-lite, but much more about staying in touch with a community of like-minded people.

Dec. 23 2008 10:56 AM
Brad from Manhattan

I was raised Jewish but I'm not at all religious. I'm an airline pilot and everything in the airline industry is based on seniority. We have to "bid" for our schedules, vacations, the equipment we fly, etc. It's ll seniority based. Tonight, I leave for a two day Waikiki layover, flowed by Sydney and Hong Kong. This would normally be a "senior" trip but since no one wants to fly through the holidays, I was able to get it. Mai Tai's on the beach...not a bad way to spend Xmas!

Dec. 23 2008 10:55 AM
chris from paterson NJ

to me X-mas will always be about us agnostic/atheists converting Jews over chinese food

Dec. 23 2008 10:50 AM
Richard Dubitsky from Manhattan

Christmas is high theater; the lights, the music, the social gatherings. It's great fun for non-believers like myself. I still can shed tears watching "It's A Wonderful Life" as well as sing along at candlelight services. How could you not be touched celebrating the birth of a baby?

Dec. 23 2008 10:47 AM
Brad from Queens NY

I am a buddhist and I spend Christmas day working because the firm I work for offers double pay on that day. It is also very quite there on Christmas day so I enjoy the day an make a lot of money. How good is that!

Dec. 23 2008 10:47 AM
es2 from brooklyn

I am a hindu myself. Before I married my atheist husband who celebrates christmas with his atheist mother as a tradition you CAN NOT break, I used to have hard time to deal with complete christamsified world around me. Now I still don't feel part of this whole commercialized holiday. I still have something fundamentally against gift giving/shopping obsessed oriented holiday. Also there is lots of nostalgia of my own diwali festival I grew up celebrating which has very different spirit.

Dec. 23 2008 10:47 AM
Caroline Kasterine from Garrison NY

I don't celebrate Christmas, instead I take a solstice like break and go into a "peaceful-time" phase for 2 weeks. The surprising thing is that I enjoy myself more than my friends and family who rush around buying gifts, and then complain about the money they spend and the lines they endure. I do distribute a few gifts bought in November, but most of this "holiday season" is spent getting around to a useful chores. I find this accomplishes 2 things, you do something nice for yourself and you don't spend money unnecessarily. Last year I got my husband and 16 year old to help paint the kitchen -- which produce funnier holiday memories then all the Christmas goose and plum pudding of traditional years past.

Dec. 23 2008 10:46 AM
serge from NYC

Having been raised Catholic but being a practicing Athiest (with a BIG A), I naturally find this entire season conflicting. On the one hand i have had X-Mas since childhood and despite the usual unwanted family hullaballooo would be hard pressed to give it up.
I think the good news is that by the weight of its own irresistable force it has become less of a religious observance than a well needed end of year festival (which is what the church co-opted to begin with in order to conveet the various pagans).
Outta the way, baby Jesus, Santa is taking this thing over whether you like it or not (special thanks to Washington Irving).
Now if we could only get the slimy mitts of runaway capitalism off of it we may be able to enjoy it!
(you just cant win)

Dec. 23 2008 10:40 AM
Rana from Stamford, CT

Although I do not celebrate christmas.I do wish all my colleagues and friends a good holiday season and often-even some very aware friends- forget that I do not celebrate christmas. When sometimes I remind as I reminded a security person in the building remarked "whenever you believe Jesus was born" remember me!!! I am a Muslim and believe in Jesus as a prophet but as I am from India most people do not even realise that India has a large Muslim population even though I am a practicing Muslim, most people are unable to put these identities togather.

Dec. 23 2008 10:39 AM
Christopher from Brooklyn

I don't celebrate Christmas (or any other religious holidays) so I use late December as a time to pad my hours at work. While I do not observe, all of my co-workers do, and if I can pick up hours and let my pals at work with kids and observant families have a few days off to enjoy themselves, well... everyone wins!

Dec. 23 2008 10:39 AM
oslyn grant from freeport new york

i like not celebrating christmas as i did before. i convey to my coworkers that i am no longer a christian and they don't mind at all. but i don't celebrate christmas because it is too commercial and living in nyc/long island there are too many people doing the same shopping thing at the same time and this adds to stress. i don't like to subscribe to this type of stressful activity. plus i don't feel bad about all that money going to waste. but i believe (as with my coworkers) tolerance in letting people chose what they want to do helps one surviving the season.

Dec. 23 2008 10:39 AM
susan Keiser from Ossining NY

My husband and I are both atheists but enjoy celebrating the winter solstice. It is no accident that Christmas falls in mid-December. In order to help spread Christianity the early church leaders declared that Jesus was born at the time that the folk would already be celebrating the days getting longer, ie, the return of the sun (son) Since many Christmas traditions derive from those folk traditions our house is as festive as anyone celebrating a religious holiday We decorate with evergreen wreaths covered in ornaments, candles and a "yule" log. Instead of creches and santas, we display reindeer and snowman, as well as pressed leaves, pinecones, and berried branches. The one thing we don't do is exchange gifts. We don't want Solstice to become as commercialized as Christmas!

Dec. 23 2008 10:38 AM
David Schmerler from Dobbs Ferry, NY

This time of year, I re-affirm my atheism. For example, yesterday I purchased and read "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris, which I recommend highly.

Dec. 23 2008 10:37 AM
Erum from White Plains

Additionally, Christmas next year will fall on the 8th of Muharram, during the first 10 days of Muharram, which are the most mournful days of Muharram and Safar.

Dec. 23 2008 10:37 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Take advantage of the sales and spend the day relaxing.

Dec. 23 2008 10:33 AM
hjs from 11211

i'm just glad i have a chance to help out the american economy. i know some corporations are having trouble coming up with year end bonuses for over paid executives. i'm hopeful some of my dollars will help this cause.
american$ wor$hip the dollar and this is the holie$t time of the year, despite the current short term troubles.

Dec. 23 2008 10:31 AM
Erum from White Plains

Hajj Day is generally a day of celebration. It is soon after followed by Eid al-Adha. Both occurred earlier this month on the 6th/7th and 8th.

Shia Muslims had a number of celebratory days:

December 11 fell on the birthday of Imam Ali Naqi (al-Hadi), the 10th Imam.
Dec 14 fell on Eid-e-Ghadeer, the day the Prophet declared Ali ibn Abu Talib his successor to the faithful on their way back home from Hajj.
Dec 25 is expected to fall on the 27th of Dhil Hijj which is Eid al-Mubahila. It was on this day that the Prophet joined Muslims and Christians in appreciation of the Prophet Jesus, and to curse liars from their company.

These dates are immediately followed by the period of mourning the death of Imam Husain during Muharram and Safar, and the the first 8 days of Rabi-ul-Awwal, the first three months of the Islamic lunar year.

Dec. 23 2008 10:30 AM
Wendy from Riverdale

I don't celebrate Christmas as such, but I always felt like a party was going on without me, so my husband and I started having a December 25 open house. I cook for days beforehand (very theraputic for me!); friends drop in throughout the day. Some stay all day, others come on their way to or from their 'real' Christmases.

It's a wonderful day; ironically, I think that we end up getting the Christmas feeling by opening our home to and spending the day with our friends (and acquaintances). For those who don't have families, or who can't be with them, it's especially meaningful.

Dec. 23 2008 10:27 AM
Umm Ibrahim from Ohio

I am a proud Muslim American. After almost 10 years, I continue to struggle with my family's questions and comments regarding my reversion to Islam. My choice to observe only Muslim holidays (Eid-ul-Adha and Eid-ul-Fitr) is the topic of regular side conversations and discussions, despite my efforts to educate and inform my family about the basic tenets and concepts of Islam. However, in addition to other major issues with the Christian faith - the chronic, increased materialism associated with the "sale" of Christmas reminds and affirms my belief and faith in Islam.

Dec. 23 2008 10:17 AM
jolly agnostic

I don't think being an atheist or agnostic means you have to opt out of Christmas or Hanukkah. I was essentially raised as an atheist, and my mother absolutely loves Christmas. We have lots of secular Christmas decorations. My father, who is more of a Christian, doesn't like Christmas.

I have friends who are Hindu who put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents every year.

Like it or not, Christmas IS a secular holiday for many. People embrace pieces of it because the truth is we all need a time for celebration even if that celebration lacks the deeper meaning that religious people might have for their holidays.

Dec. 23 2008 10:15 AM
Chris from NJ

The worst part of this season, for me, is that I no sooner explain to someone that I don't celebrate the holidays than I am subjected to condescending remarks. The most common go something like this (after I explain that I don't celebrate xmas): "awwwww, that's so sad. Well, I hope that you can do something enjoyable anyway..." Runner up for the most common would be what I consider the "over-rule" response: "well, I just want you to know that you're welcome to celebrate with us at our house."

Dec. 23 2008 10:13 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.