I get asked this question, generally by people who stand there with a smug, triumphant look on their face as if they've just found the chink in the armour of Satan. "If you're an atheist," they say, obvously relishing the chance to show the heathen the error of his ways, "why do you celebrate Christmas?"
So here's the answer which, I realise, was promised this time last year, but better late than never.
In the strictest sense, I don't. At least not in the sense that most people mean when they ask that question.
It must be emphasised that there is a significant difference between celebrating Christmas and celebrating at Christmas. It is possible, despite protestations to the contrary by some Christians and, indeed some atheists, to celebrate at Christmas in a purely secular fashion.
Now, I know that that sounds like something of a cop-out. I've read and heard many opinions from both Christians and atheists that celebrating in any fashion , irrespective of the intent, is a religious observance, a pathetic attempt to cling onto a life that, had I the courage of my convictions, I would have left behind.
And the atheists are, if anything, even more offensive about it*1
I could dwell on all of the many facts in support of secular celebration of Christmas. I could talk about how many of the facets of a "traditional" Christmas predate Christianity by, in some cases, thousands of years. The tree, the giving of presents, the decorating of the house, the singing, the pantomimes, all have their origins in traditions much older than a mere two thousand years. The date itself - December 25th, one week before the new year - has been celebrated as a winter festival, both secular and in varying religious terms, for so long that it's near impossible to pin down exactly where and when the practice started.
But these arguments would be ineffective on both judgemental atheists and Christians, because the former has probably heard all of the arguments and discounted them as irrelevant, and the latter would probably refuse to believe them.
No, in order to answer the question, it must be looked at from a different perspective.
Instead of "Why would an atheist celebrate Christmas?", we could look at "What would happen if an an atheist decided to not celebrate Christmas".
More specifically, this atheist.
The first and most personal problem is that it would cause serious friction with Mrs Doombreed. Christmas is a big holiday with my wife and her family. Am I to simply snub them? Stay at home?
But that, in itself, presents a problem. America, like England, almost entirely shuts down at Christmas. Virtually nothing is open*2. Almost all restaurants, bars, cinemas, shops, nothing going on, nothing to do. In England, there's actually a law*3 preventing many businesses from opening on Christmas Day.
For virtually all jobs, you've got the day (if not the week or more) off. Okay, I'm not about to argue if my employer wants to give me a paid day off, but that does leave one at a loose end.
Most of my friends are celebrating with their families, so going to see them is out.
Even the mighty atheist edifice that is the Atheist Parents forum was like a ghost town on Christmas Day, so busy were almost all of the members with their families.
And, when you get right down to it, why should I mope around whilst Mrs Doombreed goes off and has fun? Is your desire to be right so powerful that you'd rather I was miserable than happy?
The point I'm making here is that, when you live in a country as securely dominated by Christians as England or America are, you are included in the Christmas celebrations whether you like it or not. You probably won't be working, there's nothing else open, the telly is overrun with Christmas specials and Christmas films and Christmas comedies and Christmas dramas and people singing Christmas songs and people gushing about Christmas over and over and over.
So, if I can't escape it, why not simply make it my own? My nice, secular, religion-free, once-a-year, call-it-what-you-like*4, family celebration.
I like the gifts, both giving and receiving. I like the tree, the decorating, the lights, the ornaments*5, the tinsel. I like the Christmas dinner. I like the crappy Christmas telly. I like the eggnog. Oh, I like the eggnog. I like Mrs Doombreed's mum's Christmas candy. I even like some of the Christmas songs on the radio.
So why can't I enjoy it without the religious nonsense?
And why can't you let me be? Am I hurting you?
*1: There is nothing about atheism, despite the sterling example set by Your Gracious Host, to prevent an atheist from being an arrogant, offensive, loud-mouthed, pompous arsehole. What's perhaps more saddening is that, whilst there is much about Christianity that should prevent a Christian from being an arrogant, offensive, loud-mouthed, pompous arsehole, many still exhibit these qualities with depressing zeal.
*2: I would like to state, in the strongest possible terms, that I have no interest in seeing this change. The majority of atheists, in my experience, feel the same. If a business wants to close on Christmas Day or, indeed, any other day, that is their right and that should be protected. I am merely pointing out the consequences of that decision to an ordinary atheist.
*3: Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004
*4: Some call it solstice, some call it festivus. I call it Christmas simply because it's just easier.
*5: I especially like the Hallmark Keepsake ornament of Princess Leia In The Gold Bikini that Mrs Doombreed bought me last year.