Originally published December, 2009
I do not celebrate Christmas. Not because I have any issue with Christmas per se but because I am not a Christian. I think Christmas is a kind-of assumed cultural norm in the western world that is often not thought about critically. When I say this to people the response I often get is “everybody celebrates Christmas” which a part from being simply untrue is also quite short-sited. I know what you’re thinking.. humbug.
My father and I debate and argue about this all the time, especially on Christmas day. My father loves Christmas, he always brings me presents; Christmas day this year was no exception. Now anyone who knows me knows that I’m not big on receiving gifts, I know that sounds strange to some but that’s a whole other conversation, my point is my father loves Christmas. Now loving Christmas is not an issue in itself except for the fact that my father is what is often described as an atheist. He jokingly referred to himself yesterday as a “secular humanist” intellectual jokes aside (I thought that was quite funny), basically my pops does not practice the Christian faith.
I do however recognize that before Christianity people celebrated the winter solstice and various other festivals (pagan) around this time of year. Christmas was not the only celebration around this time historically.
My father left the church when he was very young, he comes from a predominantly Catholic family and most of my family on both my father’s and my mother’s sides are Christian at least by association. My father’s love for Christmas comes from his love of family, friends and community and the fact that Christmas was always a time to celebrate those things; that I understand completely.
I understand why Christians celebrate Christmas as well.. it is a holiday directly related to a central figure in their religion, Jesus Christ. Christmas is quite literally a celebration of the birth of Jesus and although it is debatable whether or not he was actually born on December 25, there is no debate of his importance and influence on the world. Christians understand him to be the Christ, Muslims respect him as an important prophet and many understand him to be a wise man, a moral figure and a great teacher/guru/prophet. Cool.
My issue is not with Christians celebrating Christmas or celebrating the life of a person who greatly influenced the world and how people live, I get that, I respect and appreciate that. What I don’t get is why we are expected and in many cases even pressured into celebrating Christmas when not all of us are actually Christian.
I grew up celebrating Christmas and I’ve had to think to myself when I have kids if that’s something that I will have to contend with as well. Neither of my parents are Christian and I find it a little confusing why two people who left the church in their teens would have a child in their mid-thirties and still be celebrating a Christian festival.
Now I don’t believe in the “happy holidays” movement either, if it’s Christmas let’s just called in Christmas. I think if non-Christians are expected to say Merry Christmas and celebrate this holiday I think we should all celebrate Eid and Diwali and Hanukah and all the other holidays that come out of various religious or cultural tradtions (on a side-note my spell check in Word can spell Hanukah and Christmas but doesn’t recognize Diwali and Eid as real words, I just thought that was interesting/telling.) I think my spell check issue is also reflective of what is considered ‘normal’ in our society and what is not, what is mainstream and what is not. Christmas, whether Christian or not, is mainstream in North America and the western world, the question is why?
I think this has to do with a centric view of the world. I say ‘centric’ because I didn’t want to say ‘euro-centric’ because although Christianity is viewed as a European religion it is actually a religion born in the middle-east like the other mono-theistic religions Judaism and Islam. Ethiopia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Israel, Babylon and the other locations mentioned in the bible are after all not in Europe. Despite Jesus’ depiction by European painters of the middle ages, renaissance period and modern period Jesus himself was not a European either. When people say Christianity is a European or Euro-centric religion they really mean that it was appropriated by Europeans but not in fact created by them; maybe re-created by them (in their image).
Okay, this might be a little controversial. I really think that there are only two reasons to celebrate Christmas either you are a Christian who celebrates the birth of Jesus or you are a capitalist. Granted most of you reading this probably live in a capitalist country/society and by default are a capitalist (or at least participate in capitalism), myself included.
Let’s not forget the Christmas season is largely a way for countries to flood our brains with reasons to buy random stuff. I’m not talking about giving because realistically you can do that any day of the year, and let’s not get “giving” confused with “buying” they are not necessarily the same thing.
Christmas season combined with boxing week injects an enormous amount of money into the economy every year. Santa or Saint Nicolas was a gift giver, but he also had a workshop where those gifts were made by his elves free of charge so technically (unless Santa bought the raw materials wholesale and paid the elves out of pocket) he never bought a thing (this itself is problematic because it seems that Santa was running a sweatshop of sorts, did those elves even get paid?. We should have the human rights commission look into that, are elves even human? Anyway I digress.)
I also think it interesting that the Coca Cola Corporation has a lot to do with our image of Santa and how much he has become a part of the Christmas folklore (hence the distinct branding tied to a certain Mr. Claus’ red and white jacket.) I also find it funny how proud they are of it…
Anyway, I just thought this was something that I’d like to put out there as a point of discussion. I hope this isn’t offensive to anyone and by no means am I saying we should take Christmas out of anything or only say the vague and misleading phrase “happy holidays” I’m just saying we shouldn’t assume Christmas as a norm and if we’re going to celebrate as a larger society (that is getting enormously diverse) we should put the same time and effort into understanding, accepting and celebrating.