Ask Mandisa 7 – Atheists in the Holiday Season

by | November 14, 2018

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the, if not the, largest organization for African-American or black nonbelievers or atheists in America. The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community. I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States. Here, we talk about atheists during the holiday seasons.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How can nonbelievers celebrate holidays like Halloween?

Mandisa Thomas: We can celebrate them however we want. I think it is important to understand what is behind a holiday before celebrating it. Christianity has demonized Halloween in particular. It is seen as the Devil’s holiday. It is witchcraft and Satan.

I love the horror aspect to Halloween. It creates some really good movies. My kids love to dress up for Halloween. I have been dressing them up since they were babies. It is really enjoyable. I think that any good reason for us to celebrate something or to have fun is a really, really good idea.

Jacobsen: What are some misconceptions about holidays that, maybe, atheists have, simply enjoying the time with friends, families, or acquaintances?

Thomas: I think that atheists think that they cannot participate or partake of certain holidays once they leave religion behind. For example, Christmas is seen by many religious people as the celebration of the birthday of Christ. Historically, it is inaccurate. There are many religions that contradict that.

Christmas is also a pagan holiday about having fun. It is also about gift giving. It is an effective way for folks to have a good time. I think some atheists may not like the commercialism of Christmas, for example, which is understandable. Some atheist parents may teach their children about Santa Claus. Others may not.

I did not tell my children that Santa Claus wasn’t real until they were old enough to figure it out for themselves. They are okay with that. I think there are many atheists. It can be challenging. Because to engage with family members, there is a lot of praying and religion.

It can be very difficult to make the decision as to whether to want to stay involved or not. But what we have done, as many atheist organizations (BN), we started hosting secular holiday potluck. It is for people who did not want to be around family or who would have been estranged around family.

Then they can fellowship with us. There is always a good alternative for people if they don’t have one.

Jacobsen: When I think about what you said, I think about a phrase coming from some conservative Christian circles: “the War on Christmas.”

Thomas: There are many Christians who feel the “happy holidays” thing is an attack on their belief. But I think many of them are mis-educated or misinformed about the origins of the religious holiday. They must understand that they are living in a very diverse world.

That said, “Merry Christmas,” isn’t always the best thing to express. They are not the only one with beliefs and cannot push them on other people. There are many other people celebrating all other holidays with Hanukah for Jewish people and Kwanzaa for many African-Americans.

There are holidays that take place around the Christmas holiday that should be acknowledged. It is a privilege that many Christians have assumed. Now, it is a fear that it is going to be taken away. But it really isn’t. It is simply other people having the opportunity to practice their traditions.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.

Thomas: Thank you!

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