Around this time of year Facebook lights up with those images that are supposed to make Facebook more like Pinterest or Tumblr. Actually, that happens pretty much year round, but during this time of year there’s a pretty specific message that I see: “I’m wishing you a Merry Christmas because I’d like to put the ‘Christ’ back in the season, so deal with it”. I tend to prefer “Happy Holidays” myself, for a variety of reasons – my birthday is in December, one of my sisters was also born in December, I know people who celebrate other seasonal holidays, and in my home, there were multiple seasonal holidays that we celebrated. My mother, in an effort to Christian-ize Christmas, decided that Santa Claus would come on December 6th and that we got our Christmas presents from “Baby Jesus”. We also celebrated St. Lucy day on December 13th. Throw in the two end-of-the-month birthdays and you have celebrations that are spread out through an entire month. But here’s the reason why I, as a non-Christian, am perfectly comfortable with people wishing me a “Merry Christmas”: In the United States, Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday.
Apparently only 16% of the population is atheist or agnostic (according to Wikipedia), but in my little corner of the East Coast, it seems like that number is a lot higher. I suspect that there is a significant portion of the population that claims to be religious for the social benefits it brings, but that actually falls into the atheist/agnostic category. Going through the motions does not, in my mind, make someone religious – it just means they refuse to think for themselves and question an institution they were raised in. Most of the people I know who celebrate Christmas aren’t actually Christian in the traditional sense, or in any sense of the word at all. Christmas has become largely a secular holiday that centers around family togetherness and the exchange of gifts. I feel like going through the motions during Christmas is similar to the phenomenon of secular Jews – you’re aware of the origins of the holiday, you’re aware of any upbringing you may have had, but the holiday holds no spiritual significance for you. For those people who are devoutly Christian and who do celebrate Christmas to remind themselves of the birth of Christ, then good on you. Overall, however, I feel like Christmas has, in America, become a holiday that anyone of any faith or lack thereof can celebrate without fear of compromising their beliefs. Many of the Christmas traditions that Americans hold dear were borrowed from pagan faiths anyway (lower case “p” denoting various ancient non-Christian faiths; uppercase “P” denoting modern Neo-Paganism), so the idea of borrowing traditions from another faith – even when using those traditions in a secular sense – certainly isn’t something new. In short, regardless of what holidays you do or don’t celebrate, I wish you all (all 0.5 of you) a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.