What I loved about Christmas was Christ

December 10, 2008 | 30 comments

When I was an atheist, Christmas was my favorite time of year.

The huge haul of top-of-the-line gifts stuffed under the tree each year (the spoils of being an only child) certainly helped my enjoyment of the season. But that actually wasn’t the most important thing to me. There was something else, something that stirred my soul more than any number of boxes wrapped with shiny paper ever could. I could never quite put my finger on what it was, but I sensed it every year when December rolled around.

There was a change that came over my family, my neighborhood, my town, and even my whole country in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Things weren’t perfect, but they were better. And better in a certain way.

Kitchens that were normally empty, only waystations for frantic parents to rush home from work in time to pick up the children for private tutoring or soccer practice or violin lessons, were suddenly filled with laughter and the smells of apple cider and baked goods. School was out, lessons and sports were on hiatus, workloads were lighter, and kids leaned on the counter and chatted with their parents as they cooked dinners from the old family recipe book.

Neighborhood folks who usually offered little more than a terse smile and a half wave opened their homes for Christmas parties, showering neighbors with the warm welcomes, relaxed conversation and even some homemade cookies.

Airports were filled with the sounds of high-pitched greetings of loved-ones who hadn’t hugged one another in months or years; highways were dotted with cars jammed with luggage and presents, families driving for hours and hours just to be in the same room with the people they loved on Christmas morning.

Workplaces normally filled with politics and stress came together to adopt families in need; miserly curmudgeons uncharacteristically slipped a couple bucks into the Salvation Army bucket; longstanding grudges were more likely to be forgiven; people seemed to spend more time thinking about others than about themselves.

When people would ask why my family loved Christmas even though we weren’t Christians, these are the images we’d point to.

We’d explain that the kindness, togetherness and love that permeated the holiday season were what made it magical for us. “You don’t have to be burdened by religious superstition to appreciate love, kindness and goodwill toward men, ” the thinking went. For us, Christmas was a season of love, and that’s what we were celebrating.

What we didn’t understand, however, is that we weren’t as different from the Christians as we thought we were. We atheists celebrated peace, love and goodness; our Christian neighbors celebrated the One who is Peace, Love and Goodness itself.

Later in life I would come to see that the love I sensed back then seemed so palpable, so real, because it was real, and it was bigger than I could have ever imagined; I would come to understand that wherever I sensed love I sensed God, because he is pure, perfect Love; I would come to know the shocking truth that God became a man to walk with us, to suffer with us, to suffer for us, and that his coming into this world was the coming of Love itself.

It was only then that I could see that the warmth and beauty I sensed all around me in those cold December nights was not something, but Someone. Whenever someone feels love, they feel God — even if, like me for so long, they don’t even know he’s there. That’s why I see now that what I loved about Christmas all along, even when I was an atheist, was Christ.


  1. Meredith@MerchantShips

    So beautiful.

  2. Joni

    A truly beautiful post…

  3. Elizabeth

    Which is why taking Christ out of Christmas is like trying to take warmth out of fire. You can even call it X-mas. But a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. 🙂

    Wow, did I just like mix metaphors there or what?

    awesome post, Jen.

  4. Debbie in CA : )

    You have said it so well. No further comment needed. : )

  5. allysha

    This is lovely. And so true.

  6. Amy @ Finer Things

    Amazing… beautiful… and so true! Thank you!

  7. Melody

    Um…this is so good that it needs to be put out as an article. Have you shopped it around?

  8. Shannon

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s a little tough for me as a life-long Catholic to imagine Christmas without the religious aspect of it, but it does seem that there is something innate in people. That natural yearning for, as you say, peace, love, and goodness.

  9. Marie

    I was raised to be basically an atheist, too, but for some reason we always had a nativity set. I played with it for hours every year. I knew the story of Jesus’ birth and learned lots of Christmas carols. Christmas season was a time of light for me.

  10. caite

    ..ans so true.

  11. Multiple Mom T

    How does your family view your becoming a believer and a Catholic?

  12. Sara

    That brought tears to my eyes.

  13. Teresa

    YES ! He is the reason for the season. Jennifer you are such a witness for the Lord and his gift to you for writing is a blessing for all of us.

  14. Shelly W

    Oh, I so love this. What a beautiful, beautiful thought.

  15. Anonymous


    Doesn’t the “x” of “xmas” stand for the Greek letter “chi”, as in Chi-Rho? So it’s more of a shorthand than taking Christ out of Christmas?

  16. Eliz

    So beautiful, Jen! I echo Elizabeth – He’s there, even if we don’t acknowledge it. And I echo Melody, too – this is too good not to share it wider.

  17. autumnesf

    Well said…and ditto. Isn’t it amazing how we can look back at the things that stirred big feelings or tears for unknown reason and now see that it was God at work in us? He was watching over us long before we even knew it and while we hotly denied it.

    God is to good!

    Merry Christmas!!!

  18. nicole

    Beautiful Jen!

  19. Hairline Fracture

    Thank you for writing this–it’s a needed reminder for me to enjoy the love that Christ brings to the holiday season!

  20. Kim

    Wow. I’m crying here. Beautiful.

  21. Tari

    “I would come to understand that wherever I sensed love I sensed God, because he is pure, perfect Love”

    Wow – thanks for that.

  22. the Mom

    Absolutely lovely. Thank you so much for sharing this. My kids will be reading it in class on Monday!

  23. Jennifer

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing this. What a beautiful reminder of what we as Christians know to be the real source of joy and love at Christmastime. I love the Chrismas season for all the reasons you mentioned, thanks for reminding me why I love it so much.

  24. seemommysew

    Beautifully said…thank you for that! It brought tears to my eyes.

  25. Runningamuck

    Beautiful and true! Thanks. =0)

  26. Beth (A Mom's Life)

    Beautiful. You have such a wonderful way with words!

  27. Liza's Eyeview

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve always loved Christmas but this made me appreciate the Christ of Christmas even more 🙂


  28. Short Stop

    This is the most fantastic read about Christmas that I’ve ever come across. It is incredibly insightful and moving.

  29. Trisha Niermeyer Potter

    Again, beautifully written, and a wonderful reminder that it's a good thing that people who aren't religious, yet, feel more love around this time of year. Your story is a great way to prove that's the beginning of something more, if only we have the courage to pray for them and offer our witness. Thanks for sharing, and God bless!


  1. 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 156) : Conversion Diary - [...] from this is taken as a clear indicator that you are a joyless person who cares neither about the…

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