Christmas has always belonged to other traditions
"Keep Christ in Christmas!" is the familiar refrain of Christians who fear the secularization of the holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, their savior.
But in America, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas.
According to a recent poll by the Christian group LifeWay Research, "A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians."
Do you need to be Christian to celebrate Christmas? What is Christmas all about?
Is Christmas Christian? Good question. Not so easy to answer. One might think that a word made up of "Christ" and "mass" is obviously Christian, and, on the surface, it would be. However, it is common knowledge that the December 25 date for the observance of Christ's birth is borrowed from pre-Christian celebrations of Saturnalia and Solstice. Common symbols of the holiday - the tree, holly, and yule log - are similarly borrowed from pagan traditioins. In a way, one might be tempted to say that if Christians have so blithely appropriated other religions' observances, then why should they get so agitated when Christmas is taken over, too?
But I don't think these issues are at the heart of the matter. When people spell out in lights (another tradition borrowed from elsewhere!) "Jesus is the reason for the season" or "Keep Christ in Christmas," they are saying that the focus of the celebration should be on a particular event in history: the birth of the One who, in Christian understanding, is the incarnation of G-d, the One who came to earth to reveal G-d's nature, instruct us on how to live, and offer a way to reconciliation with G-d. In short - salvation.
If instead of focusing on these theological matters, people used the season to emphasize such non-Christian values as, say, consumerism, materialism, excess, overindulgence, fighting for the last "must have" toy on the shelf, and tacky displays of plastic yard ornaments, then I would think that Christians would have a right to complain! Problem is, who is practicing such things? Christians!
Well into the late 19th century, Quakers did not observe Christmas. If the 25th of Twelfth Month fell on a school day, little Quaker boys and girls trudged off to school - their broadbrim hats and bonnets pelted with snowballs thrown by "the world's people." Heck, Quakers didn't observe Easter, Lent, Advent, or other "holy days" on the Church calendar either. Each day was to be a day when one observed the birth of Christ's Light in our lives; each day was to be a practice of resurrecting that Light and living in that Light; each day was to be marked by penitence, expectation, and Christian action. Nor did it escape those early Friends that many "holy days" were borrowed from pagan practice - and their integrity demanded that they practice a Christian life, not one appropriated from other traditions.
Today, most Quakers have assimilated into the cultural and religious mainstream and put on their most festive grey to observe the Christmas season. Some still avoid much of the excess of the season (you can often pick out the Quaker house on the block of otherwise electric bill-impaired residents), and some see the season as a violation of important Quaker testimonies (Peace: that tree appears to be doing violence to the angel on top! Simplicity: Christmas seems to be a magnet for attracting useless gifts. Equality: How DO we make sure that everyone gets the same number of gifts and nobody is left off the Christmas card list?). But most Quakers these days enter into the season with intentions of putting up their decorations and buying their simple gifts while keeping the central message of the holiday at heart: the in-breaking of a revelation that G-d's Light and Love is available to all, regardless of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, or political party. And we fail at about the same rate as everyone else!
We, too, get caught up in the stress of the season, get lured into buying useless stuff to please others, and get depressed by memories of past Christmases spent with loved ones now passed away.
If Christmas could be something else - truly a time to reflect on eternal verities and practice peace and goodwill to all on earth - I wouldn't mind sharing the season with folks of every religious or non-religious stripe. After all, we've appropriated other people's symbols for our Christmas celebrations. Why not return the favor by emphasizing what's actually represented by those outward forms?!
Posted by: communique101 | December 21, 2010 10:34 PM
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Posted by: darkglobe5 | December 21, 2010 3:30 PM
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