Santa Claus won't mind if you miss Midnight Mass this Christmas. Or, at least, that's the message appearing on billboards across the United States this week. The American Atheists organization paid for and installed controversial advertisements along highways in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Colorado Springs, Colorado, in an effort to recognize people who are not religious, according to a news release.
The billboards show Santa Claus with a finger to his lips accompanied by the text, "Go ahead and skip church! Just be good for goodness' sake. Happy Holidays!" They're set to run through the end of December.
“We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person,” American Atheists President David Silverman said in the release. “The things that are most important during the holiday season — spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry — have nothing to do with religion.”
— Yahoo Canada News (@YahooCanadaNews) December 10, 2015
But not everyone reacted well to the billboards, which popped up about a month after coffee chain Starbucks jump-started the annual debate around the so-called war on Christmas by debuting seasonal red cups sans holiday illustrations. Critics have alleged the U.S. is erasing the role of religion in Christmas.
"I think it's really terrible," Colorado Springs resident Vanessa Holdridge told KRDO. "Personally, my family is strictly Catholic. I was raised like that. I like the 'happy holidays' part, that's okay, but we should keep Christ in Christmas."
The American Atheists, a nonprofit based in Cranford, New Jersey, puts up the billboards in different places each year, the Washington Post reported. A spokesman for the group told the Houston Chronicle it was targeting religious areas this December in an effort to inspire conversation about people's faith.
“It is beyond disrespectful to my community and disrespectful to my beliefs,” Chris Judge, a resident of Kernersville, North Carolina, told My Fox 8. “I guess everyone can have their opinion, but I don't want it on my billboards in North Carolina."