“KEEP THE CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS!!!!!” says the sign hanging in your ultra-conservative second cousin’s window when you arrive there for the yearly winter holiday family shebang. You take a deep breath, trying to hold your opinions inside, even if it means swallowing your progressive millennial pride and not exploding when the conversation inevitably rolls around to how the world needs to stop being so politically correct, in your aunt’s opinion. You sit there all night, wishing that religious connotations to holidays you generally enjoy would just evaporate so that you could spend one Christmas in a secular, friendly family environment without contemplating sneaking out the back window.
Wait, have I been saying “you"? I meant me. This is how I feel every time I get roped into a discussion with someone who gets offended when I say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” because I do so interchangeably. To me, they’re essentially the same thing — and there is nothing wrong with that. The secularization of holidays like Kwanzaa, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and any number of others is just a perfectly natural byproduct of globalization, industrialization and general cultural growth.
**Disclaimer: I was raised in a Catholic household, so most of my holiday experiences have been of the traditional Christian variety. At no point am I trying to leave out the celebrations of those of other faiths and cultures — I simply am unfamiliar with the customs that accompany them, and I don’t want to get the details wrong. The general principles I’m expressing can apply to any and all religious holidays.
I take some solace in the fact that the aforementioned generational disconnect doesn’t apply to just me. The Pew Research Center found that millennials, along with being much less likely to consider themselves religious than previous generations, are also less likely to think of holidays like Christmas and Kwanzaa as religious events. Instead, we tend to look at them as cultural events and attach less significance to whether or not it was Jesus’ birthday (or a day dedicated to the Roman god Saturn/Persian god Mithra, as the holiday in December 25 was originally).
We still enjoy the celebration associated with these particular dates on whatever religious calendar we happen to be accustomed to, though. We still love to celebrate the holidays that were such staples of our childhoods, even if a lot of us don't really care about why we set up a dead or fake shrub in the middle of the room in the house we never use and put those candles in the windows and on the tables. What matters to us is the warm feeling we get when we think of cold winter mornings of our childhood, when we could walk out into the living room to the smell of hot chocolate and a feeling of close family ties.
Not everyone takes such a nonchalant approach to the drain of religious significance, however; some people, largely religious conservatives, balk at the secularization of what used to be primarily religious celebrations. I'm sure many of you can remember the uproar over Starbucks' holiday cup design from 2015 and then again this year, in which people accused the company of "waging a war on Christmas" simply because they chose to go with a minimal red cup design in lieu of traditional holiday decorations like reindeer, candles, Christmas trees etc. If you do a little exploring of the "War on Christmas" tag on FoxNews.com, you'll find stories tagged with "outrageous" and "fiery."
This idea of a "war" on anything that people see as a threat to the superiority of their culture is another symptom of the rampant issue of hyper-nationalism that I tackled in an article Reporter published on its website titled "The Perils of Nationalism." Some people see the inclusion of others or the decline in popularity of beliefs that have previously been mainstream as a threat to their position in society. These people don't want to see a change in the status quo.
There are voices of reason among the naysayers, however. In his blog onFaith, Jeff Clarke pleads with his fellow Christians to actually listen to the teachings of their messiah and reminds them that "Christmas is a significant date in the Church’s liturgical calendar, not society’s calendar" — in other words, Christmas is just a day. If people want to celebrate on that day, good for them. If they want to celebrate religiously, great. Just let them do their thing and don't force your beliefs onto other people. We need more vocal Christians like you, Jeff; we hear too much from the other side and not enough from yours.
The reality is that holidays have become more than just religious celebrations. They have become cultural posts in the ever-flipping calendar that, without some spots of brightness, would be dreary, repetitive and without meaning. Even if I don't think a fat man in a red suit is going to somehow break through the sealed-off fireplace into my living room to leave consumerist souvenirs under my fake tree adorned with plastic balls, I should still be able to enjoy the time with my family and the warmth in the pit of my stomach that starts with that first chime of silver bells.