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Merry Christmas From One South Dakota Atheist

Dec 28, 2011

Spearfish let school out early last Thursday. I returned to the high school an hour later with Secret Santa presents and a cooler full of pop for our French Club Christmas party. 

As I headed down the quiet hallway, I spotted a dark-haired girl sitting alone on a bench, tapping away at her computer. I played the dorky teacher (play? I live that role). Approaching, I smiled and said: “You know, it’s Christmas! School’s out!”

She smiled back that awkward teenage smile I see a hundred times a day, the smile that gets me to work on time. As I passed, she ventured timorously “Merry Christmas?” She spoke with that upward teenage twist that says, “Is this what I say to fit in? Will you think I’m a dork for saying it?”

In the Hallmark movie version of my life, I stop, return to the girl, kneel before her, clasp her hands between mine, and say as music swells, “Bless you, dear child, for sharing the spirit of the season!” In the version of my life imagined by right-wing culture warriors, this godless public school teacher writes her up for peddling religious myths. 

In real life, I turned, returned her greeting, and continued to my classroom.

I am glad that girl said Merry Christmas to me. I enjoy hearing people wish each other well. I enjoy seeing schools, stores, TV stations, and the rest of us breaking from our schedules to make time for ourselves, our friends, and our families.

I am not glad to hear “Merry Christmas” turned from a goodwill wish into a battle cry. The “War on Christmas!” rhetoric doesn't just broadly tar non-believers; it encourages Christians to declare war and fight back.

But Christmas has no room for militancy. Christmas says, “Shushhh! New baby! Wonder. Awe. Shhh.” Certain believers say one baby born in a barn 2000 years ago came to bring peace on earth. Believers ought to model that peace in word and deed. Non-believers ought to respect and embrace that spirit.

Girl in the hallway, I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday. And if your Aunt Lucinda starts complaining about those darn atheists waging war on Christmas, tell her to peace out… and tell her the secular humanist French teacher at your school wishes her a Merry Christmas… and a Happy New Year… and very, very nice day.


Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.


10:27 am - Thu, December 29 2011
Bernie Hunhoff said:
06:02 pm - Thu, December 29 2011
Right-wing culture warrior said:
Empathy must be a form of faith. Merry solstice and may the new year bring us all more open discussion and less culture war.
07:43 am - Sun, January 1 2012
Nick Wethington said:
I have to agree with you. As a long-time atheist who doesn't celebrate Christmas for the religious reasons, I still find myself wishing people a Merry Christmas instead of the more bland "Happy Holidays". There's nothing wrong with a little goodwill towards other people, no matter the greeting. Right-wing culture warrior said it best - less culture war would do us a whole lot of good!

Happy New Year!
07:48 am - Mon, January 2 2012
Shane Gerlach said:
Very well said my friend. When speaking with young people who say they aren't sure if they believe in God or state they do not believe in God I will ask them how many times a day they pray to God. Many tell me they don't until I bring up situations.

Pop Quiz or test that determines your grade and eligibility for extra curricular activities "Please God let me pass."

Police behind them "Please God don't let him pull me over."

Coming in late with beer on breath "Please don't let me parents be awake."

Oaths are sent up and more often than not they are sent up by our youngest as they search for meaning and guidance in their lives. I feel much more optimistic knowing that there are open minded educators like you out there not afraid to be listen to all despite personal beliefs.
09:50 am - Tue, January 3 2012
Pud? said:
Nobody really cares if you're an atheist or not. Promoting your lack of beliefs is just as annoying as people who celebrate and push their beliefs in a higher power onto other people.

Seriously, it's gotten to the point where atheists are more annoying than believers.

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