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Cannonball Read V: The Atheist's Guide to Christmas by Ariane Sherine

By nelsonmilum | Book Reviews | January 3, 2013 | Comments ()


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My first review for the Cannonball Read is of the book that ended my 2012. With certain media outlets decrying the "War on Christmas" ostensibly being waged by the ungodly among us, it makes sense to find out what a certain demographic really thinks. The Atheist's Guide to Christmas is an anthology of essays, stories, and anecdotes from various non-believers mostly from the U.K. There's a wide variety of stories, from the curmudgeonly to the ecstatic.

A particular favourite was Lucy Porter's list of alternative media to consume during the holiday, but there is also a beautiful scientific creation story posed by Brian Cox, awesome advice from Siân Berry for having a greener Christmas, snarky suggestions for outdoor Christmas lights from a fellow named Jon Holmes, and abundance of other tales to fit nearly every mood I can think of. Except lust, there was very little of that. And I forgive the editor for that choice.

This book is definitely not for everybody. When someone at worked noticed what I was reading, they asked "Does it give both sides?" as though a book guiding a heathen through the season might be concerned with what a believer might do. No, I informed my dear co-worker that it is an admittedly one-sided book, and unapologetically so. It's not making an argument, it's preaching to the choir, if I may use that phrase in this context. This book is not for people who think the universe is only around six thousand years old. It's not for people who thing that dinosaurs and humans used to hang out together. Or maybe it is for those people, if they're also people who like having their preconceptions challenged just a bit.

This book is written for non-believers who are wondering how to fit this religious-ish institution into their lives, or wondering how to avoid it. It's written for people who honestly want to know what atheists think like, it's written for laughs and smirks, and some damn good ideas for next holiday time. It really was written for people like me.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read V. Read all about it, and yes there is still time to sign up.

For more of nelsonmilum's reviews, check out his blog, Something Eloquent.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)



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Comments Are Welcome, Douches Are Not


  • Buck Forty

    Fundamentalist Christians are funny, and not 'haha' funny. If you were reading a book about Hitler would your coworker ask “Does it give both sides?”. No.

    Damn, I just killed my own argument by calling Hitler.

  • Kati

    There are more than two sides to the Christmas debate. Whole swaths of folks are deeply religious without believing in Christ as the Messiah - Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Buddists, etc. All of those folks have to navigate the winter holiday season, too.

    My Jewish husband has no troubles celebrating Christmas, as he sees it as a largely commercial event. It's an excuse to have a family get-together where we eat a lot of our favorite foods and enjoy each other's company while we spoil the children rotten. It's more of a "peace on Earth, good will towards men" time of year for us.

  • Rooks

    After listening to Tim Minchin's White Wine in the Sun, I rather felt like there was absolutely nothing else left to say about atheism and Christmas.
    Mh. Then again, Brian Cox and Derren Brown... I should put it on the list right away.

  • lowercase_ryan

    Fuck yeah non-believers!!

    Honestly the best Christmas (solstice, but w/e) party I went to this year was put on by my Atheist hiking group. It can be a great time of year for all, as long as you let yourself enjoy it.

  • Anne At Large

    Heh. This may be the best "Christmas" present ever for a lot of people on my list next year, thanks for the rec! Can't wait to read it myself, Brian Cox is amazing, for starters!

  • As a pretty much life-long atheist I never understood why some of my fellow non-believers got so worked up about the institution of Christmas. After all it was a day off where the family got together, Grandma made a delicious ham, and I received presents - what's not to like? Of course the religiosity in my family is highly limited. The only "intrusion" of religion into our Christmas festivities is the pre-meal recitation of the lord's prayer, during which I sit silent and plan the details of my pending assault on the food set before me. It was only later in life that I realized that my experiences were probably not the norm when a Catholic friend explained Midnight Mass.

  • Clancys_Daddy

    Do what I do, ignore the false religious aspects (pagan holiday co-opted by the church) and concentrate on the family aspect.

  • Scully

    "Does it give both sides?" has overtaken the top spot on Most Offensive Thing Said list. Sweet baby Godtopus, people who say this need an intervention.

    Thanks for the review! It sounds like a book I'd enjoy on audio.

  • Wōđanaz Óðinn

    Good read, but sweet jeebus, typos ahoy!

  • Next review will definitely have less typos.

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