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Minnesota atheists embrace the Christmas spirit by donating toys, packaging food

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Christmas, as many people know, comes from Christianity and was designated to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

Yet some of Minnesota's godless take the holiday – and the spirit that comes along with it – very seriously.

The Minnesota Atheists organization is in the midst of a charitable swell.

The group had raised $800 for an east metro food shelf by late November, participated in the Mall of America's Walk to End Hunger on Thanksgiving, packed 223 meals to help feed nearly 900 people, and on Dec. 13 collected $1,000-worth of toys to donate to kids at the University of Minnesota's children's hospital. All in the spirit of Christmas.

Why?

"[B]ecause even though atheists don’t believe in the supernatural, we do believe in making this one and only life as joyful as possible," the site says.

Their goal, President Eric Jayne told the Pioneer Press, is to celebrate all the good that comes with Christmas – helping others, being charitable, showing love to your family – without attributing it to a religious purpose.

How prominent is atheism?

Atheism – defined as not having a belief in a God or gods – has been on the rise in the U.S., though still accounts for a small percentage of Americans.

Nationally, about 2.4 percent of Americans (approximately 7.5 million people) identified as atheist in 2012, according to Pew Research – that's up from 1.6 percent just five years prior. By comparison, Christianity in America dominates, but is on a downward trend: from 78 percent in 2007, to 73 percent in 2012.

There is no state-by-state breakdown available for the data that year. If we assume the percentage stays true to the national one, that would mean there are about 130,000 people who identify as atheist in Minnesota.

Expand that to simply "unaffiliated," and the number jumps to 19.6 percent – which in Minnesota is about 1.05 million.

Atheists, according to a recent Pew Research study, are one of the most negatively viewed religious groups in the U.S., along with Muslims.

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