We’ve reached the most festive time of the year, children and adults alike anticipate the succulent turkey, the smell of a Christmas tree in the living room, the accumulation of presents underneath it and the lengthy TV specials awaiting. However, as the Christians of Britain call for a more pluralist holiday, it is easy to question whether we have forgotten the true roots of Christmas.
The debate surrounding the true meaning of Christmas has become something of a predicament. Whilst two thirds of Britain claim that Christmas is a religious holiday, it is safe to say that the build-up and commercialisation of this holiday has, in turn, brought out the ugly spoilt nature of children and set parents back into debt.
The celebration of Christmas as we all know comes from the birth of Jesus Christ and although millions of people celebrate this on December 25th, most scholars agree that he wasn’t born on that day, or even in the year 1 A.D. Researchers say that this date was settled on for many reasons, such as that date tying in with the winter solstice and Saturnalia, a festival dedicated to the Roman deity, for example. By choosing this day to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, the church could co-opt with the popular pagan festival as well as the winter celebrations of other pagan religions. Although people complain over the ‘lies’ of Christmas, this day is chosen to celebrate the birth of the most prominent biblical figure, something that Christians feel is necessary to glorify, regardless of the precision of its date. So why have so many of us forgotten this?
This year in Exeter I witnessed for the first time the Christmas lights going on in the Town centre. As anti-climatic as this experience may have been for me, all I could think of was that it was only mid November. What is more, the shops put their displays up even earlier than this and, as soon as Halloween was over, there was almost no time to pause and take a breath. People want Christmas without having to wait, thus completely divorcing the festival from its season, its context and any accompanying meaning.
Something discovered in recent surveys states that less than three quarters of children knew Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, with 11 per cent believing it was the birthday of Father Christmas. It is this lack of belief, or an unaccounted rise in Atheism, that has perhaps lead to forgetting this ‘other side’ of Christmas. Society sees Christmas as a shopping holiday and we are only too happy to keep this momentum going.
Society sees Christmas as a shopping holiday
As a secular society, the idea of Christmas being religious is a distant memory. Christmas is now just a way of society pushing its inhabitants to work. We have images of expensive sofas, big houses and massive presents shoved in our faces; this is the old age trick of the carrot enticing the donkey. Work hard, earn money and this is what you can have. Has Christmas turned into an economic scheme brought to ensure people keep spending money to keep our economy alive?
Don’t get me wrong, whether I am speaking as a Christian or not, I love the tinsel, the presents and the food as much as the next person. Yet, I can’t stop and wonder why it’s so controversial to acknowledge of the Christmas holiday in its entirety. Even schools are rejecting the involvement of Christianity within the Christmas celebration in order to not offend those from other religions. Instead, children write letters to Santa and talk about what they want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning. What is confusing is why we have avoided the day’s association with Christianity to be multi-culturally sensitive. Isn’t a rich diversity of religions what makes a country thrive individually?
Particularly in the United States, in recent decades, the government’s use of the term ‘Christmas’ during the Christmas and holiday season has declined and been replaced with a generic term, usually ‘holiday’ or ‘holidays’, to avoid referring to Christmas by name and to be inclusive of other end-of-year observances such as Hanukkah and Kwanza.
What the topic boils down to is whether Christmas is still a religious holiday or is this part of the wider picture? Surely it’s up to everyone to decide their own image of Christmas, regardless of its Christian routes. Yet it’s clear that once the Christianity goes, we will just be left with shopping and bad telly. So maybe it really is up to the Christians to reclaim this festival.