"I wanted to make a statement, because 80 percent of the American population is Christian, [and] 96 percent of the American population celebrates Christmas," said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. "We don't need people trying to counter with their anti-messages in December."
The American Atheist chapter in Leesburg, Va.,has a winter solstice display set up next to a nativity scene on the grounds of the county court house. The group's state director, Rick Wingrove, said the public display underscores the impartiality of the county government and, like other campaigns, is meant to send a message to fellow atheists.
"The fact that we're present, that we're visible and vocal, convinces more and more people all the time that it's okay to come out," said Wingrove.
"There's certainly a lot more interest around this time every year," he said. "You know, people call us up and say, what do atheists do on Christmas?' and 'Are you guys setting up the signs again?'"
In response, Wingrove tells non-believers to celebrate as they wish. He himself, raised Catholic in Texas, still puts up a tree in his house. He maintains, however, that the holiday belongs to everyone, not just Christians. And like his New York colleague, Wingrove said the winter solstice predates Christianity.
Randolph Sly, associate editor for Catholic Online, said the origins of the holiday are pretty clear.
"That's the ironic thing about them saying that Christianity stole Christmas," said Sly. "Well, it's our word, you know, it's Christ mass."
The atheist groups say they want to "out" the godless, while the Christian groups say the holiday campaigns are evidence of a culture war. At this point it is unclear if a winner will emerge from this so-called battle. When pressed, almost everyone, including Rick Wingrove of American Atheists, did agree on one thing: that at least seasonal cheer is worth keeping around.
"Whatever routine you have, whatever you do with your family," he said, "I don't see any reason to not enjoy the season."