An atheist group in Ellsworth, Maine, recently made a float to be shown in the town's annual Christmas parade this past weekend in an attempt to make local residents more aware of the atheist organization.
The local atheist group, known as the Downeast Humanists and Freethinkers, created a float consisting of a decorated Christmas tree to honor last Saturday's holiday parade theme, "Rock Around the Christmas Tree." The tree was reportedly decorated with natural ornaments, such as cranberries, popcorn and mussel shells. Members of the atheist group reportedly walked alongside their homemade float during the parade, passing out pamphlets that explained the Christmas tree has been used in Winter Solstice celebrations for thousands of years.
"For more than 5,000 years people have brought greenery into their homes to remind them of all the green plants that would grow again when longer days would return," the pamphlets read, according to the Bangor Daily News. "Long before the advent of Christianity, ancient Egyptians, Romans, Druids and many others had celebrations at the winter solstice."
Doug Bunker, a member of the group who hosted the float decorating party at his home last week, told the Bangor Daily News that the purpose of the float is not to offend Christians but to invite any people curious about atheism to join their small group that consists of 20 to 25 members. "We want to make sure that anyone that's interested in humanism, free thought, separation of church and state issues knows that we're there."
The group is reportedly planning to become a chapter for the national lobbying group the Secular Coalition for America next year so they can fight against local legislation that they believe violates the separation of church and state.
Atheist groups across the country have been trying to recruit new members through a variety of methods. One group, the San Diego Coalition of Reason in California, has tried to find new members by setting up a weekend booth in Balboa Park with a sign reading: "Relax: hell does not exist, or heaven either, enjoy your life." Another group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, put up over 55 billboards in Sacramento, Calif., last month that include messages such as "I'm not a believer and life is still awesome."
The holidays come at an especially tense time between atheist groups and Christians as atheists often try to fight any connection between Christmas and Christianity in the public square. Atheist groups have erected holiday displays celebrating the Winter Solstice in several U.S. cities, including Chicago, Florida and Wisconsin to rival nativity scenes at Capitol buildings.
At Florida's Capitol building in Tallahassee, the Freedom From Religion Foundation set up a display meant to be a play on the classic nativity scene, but instead of a baby laying in a manger there sits a Bill of Rights, with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Statue of Liberty lovingly looking at the piece of paper.