In case you didn't know, I'm not a religious man. Frankly, "not religious" doesn't do justice to my thoughts on spirituality, but we'll get to that one of these days. Since no one really cares about how atheists spend the holiday season here is an explanation of what is transpires.
I have "celebrated" Christmas since as long as I can remember. Like many American children it was more of an indoctrination opposed to real religious understanding. It was the same way with my parents (but they received more theological instruction than my sister and I). I was eventually explained to what Christmas is all about; the celebration of the birth of the Christian faith's messiah. Now I have a more thorough understanding of the Christmas season (while Jesus' birthday is not known specifically, likely sometime in late spring by celestial and other "landmark" descriptors, the December date was chosen to ease the conversion of pagans and other non-Christians by replacing the traditional winter solstice with Jesus' birthday).
Being left to determine my own theological views (special thanks to Mom & Dad) as opposed to being indoctrinated at a young age, I settled on skeptical non-belief (not that all children are forced into religious belief, but most today are taught religion and do not "find it" on their own). This very much affects my "celebration" during the holiday season (and I prefer the use of "holiday" as many faiths celebrate this time of year, and I have a break from work).
So, how does one who openly rejects the divinity of Jesus celebrate Christmas? In the simplest of terms, I don't celebrate Christmas. To associate with a phrase I hear often this time of year, there is no "Christ" in my Christmas. To say that I don't celebrate Christmas is true. But, that being said, I do support the sentiments of the season: peace, love, generosity to mankind. Many atheists take the same perspective. While I don't just wait around to be a good husband, son, & brother, I do take every opportunity to show my family & friends I care. And Christmas is a good time to do that. The year is ending, others are celebrating, it's good time to reflect with the people you care about on the previous year and what is to come.
So, a guide for Atheists:
1) Don't be a dick - there is no better way to reinforce the stereotype that atheists are evil, douche-bags than to shit on other people's beliefs/holidays. If they know you, they likely already know about your non-beliefs. 9 times out of 10, they are just trying to be nice. Deal with it. Note: asserting government facilities & public lands are NOT acceptable places for religious displays is fine, because they aren't, again state your case and don't be a dick.
2) Celebrate what you want - don't get forced into celebrating something you don't support. This is to keep you from getting into a uncomfortable situation. I had a work meeting that started as a "Christmas card signing for the troops" a few weeks back. Admittedly, I felt ambushed and confronted by this. "Everyone sign the cards and wish a Merry Christmas to our guys overseas." I had several problems with this; first, I felt like I was being forced to participate in something I didn't believe in (that being Christmas, also it was apparently "assumed" I was Christian); second, we were ignoring our non-christian service men and women (which frustrated me greatly). A co-worker was even arrogant enough to say, "But even the non-Christians celebrate Christmas." Incorrect. That was the first time my non-beliefs ever made me feel uncomfortable at work. The best course of action is to remove yourself; think of an excuse, or just get out. Sticking around will just complicate things. Respecting beliefs goes both ways, if someone doesn't respect yours, just leave.
3) Enjoy yourself - kick back and take it all in. This time of year is fun. If you go in with a good attitude of being kind and generous you may have fun. This year, I made the goal of trying to enjoy the season, and it worked. Sure, I still get worked up by the religiosity of it all, but let it slide. It's a time to spend with friends and family. Eat some food, give some gifts, immerse yourself and you'll find it's worth the time.
A guide for Theists (on dealing with us): Believe it or not, the odds are you have atheist friends. And this is OK. Atheists are still fairly closeted in many parts of the country; primarily for fear of, you guessed it, discrimination. I myself have a fear of being treated differently or shunned for my non-belief.
1) Don't do anything differently - this is your religious holiday. Don't change anything for atheists you know. If you are having a Christmas party, call it that. We really don't care, we will be there to enjoy the company of our friends (again, we still are social animals, invite us anyway).
2) Don't ask us to come to church with you - we are uninterested with this activity, and the time of year has no effect on our disinterest. Most atheist HAVE, in fact, been to church. Most of us many times. It didn't affect us then, and it won't now. No, your [preacher, minister, priest, what-have-you] is not special and their message is no different. We're very happy you like your local religious leader and love your belief system, we love our system too. Just let us be.
3) Don't ask if we are offended - we really don't get offended by seasonal buffoonery you engage in, some of it is funny though. I also enjoy seasonal shenanigans. The only times we get offended is when people make assumptions about out non-belief: "atheists are terrible, immoral people." No, being an atheist doesn't make a man bad just like being a Christian doesn't make a man good.
4) Finally, don't be weary of atheists - we wont bite, really. Save the belief system, we are just like you. We probably like you if we talk to you. The fact that you don't know that some of your friends are atheists should be proof enough of our benign nature. If you have questions about atheists, non-theists, or other secular-folk, just ask. Sure, we absolutely disagree on stuff, but it's OK.
Maybe this will clear things up for folks. The last thing anyone wants is more conflict around this time of year. I plan on enjoying the holiday season, and I hope everyone, regardless of their beliefs or lack-there-of, enjoys it too.
To all, Happy Holidays!