Easter for atheists


If you don’t believe, can you still get peanut-butter eggs?

Easter is a holiday that, for a long time, never felt like it counted. It’s always on a Sunday, involves lots of chocolate and jelly beans and has such a strong Christian message to it that if you’re not a Christian, it’s hard to celebrate.

Unless of course, you like sweets.  I do, but not to the point of devoting a holiday to them.

Christmas is a religious holiday, too, but it at least has been secularized so much that even an atheist like me can celebrate the trappings and alternative meanings of the holiday without getting caught up in the birth-of-Jesus message. I like the idea of taking time at the end of the year to reflect on how much better we can treat one another.

Also I  like bright lights in the dead of winter.

Easter was always easy to avoid. It doesn’t feel much like a holiday if you’re not going to celebrate the resurrection of a man you don’t think existed in the first place. But now that I have a kid, Easter is as unavoidable as Christmas. I find myself examining a question I faced decades ago when I stopped believing in religion but still wanted to celebrate Christmas:

How do you celebrate the holiday when you don’t believe in its underlying premise?

This, of course, is the grand illusion: Easter predates Christianity as far as holidays go. Same with Dec. 25. Long before we heathens took the Christ out of Christmas, the Christians took the Saturn out of Saturnalia.

One could always go for the pagan route and celebrate Easter as rebirth. It’s the time of year when flowers start to bloom, when the last of winter’s cold touch has retreated for good. Easter is a time to prune that which has died and tend to the care of living things that need to grow. (How deep into that metaphorical well you want to go is entirely up to you.) 

Or one could consider the story of Jesus from a metaphorical perspective. If the goal of Christianity is to be Christ-like, then the message of Easter doesn’t mean redemption; it means sacrifice. It means taking on the burdens of others. We don’t need to go to such extremes as he did, but it is worth asking ourselves when we see a loved one — or hell, even a stranger — in pain: What can I do to ease his/her suffering? 

You don’t need to be a Christian to ponder such questions; just like you don’t need to be a Christian to wish for peace on earth, good will toward men and women at Christmas time. 

This train of thought isn’t as fun as seeking out colored eggs or eating a chocolate bunny for breakfast. 

I don’t really have an answer to why atheists should celebrate Easter. But I do know that this atheist will celebrate in the morning. If nothing else, it provides a rationale to act silly with kids and spend time with loved ones. 

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