As we celebrate Christmas, what does the day really mean to Americans?
Many of us have secularized the day to such a point that it has no religious significance. Many Americans may count it as another holiday…Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. By stripping the acknowledgement of Jesus’ birth from the day, we have taken it back to its pagan origins. Christmas trees, winter solstice, yule log, and mistletoe can be traced to pre-Christian traditions.
It sounds almost contrived now to say that “Christ belongs in Christmas.” The birth of Jesus is exactly what the day is all about. An acknowledgement of our Christian roots as a nation and a society.
As a pluralistic country, how can Americans recognize the religious significance of the day but still include our non-believing and non-Christian fellow citizens in this national holiday?
Gift giving, family meals, and good cheer can paper over some of the divides even within the same family. The best way to accommodate all would be for believing Christians to keep the day by attending church, prayer, and even having a manger as part of our decorations. More secular traditions can be had by all. Even the gift giving (a pagan custom), and a holiday meal can embrace believer and non-believer alike.
Most of the holidays celebrated in America have become a pleasant excuse to gather and enjoy each other’s company. The July 4th barbeque, Memorial Day and Labor Day picnics, and football at Thanksgiving become separated more and more from their origins with each passing generation.
While those holidays are uniquely American, Christmas is worldwide. The universality of the day may give one pause. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that celebrating the birth of Jesus is at the heart of the day.
It usually is the political right that harps on those saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Yet what should a non-Christian say? Interestingly, U.S. politics does have religious components (e.g., the Evangelicals). But they make up a smaller and smaller contribution to overall population.
As Scrooge exclaimed, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Dickens was the father of the Victorian Christmas which is basically what a secularized society celebrates today.
Even in his Christmas Carrol though it is really about the rebirth of Scrooge to being a Christian through redemption. That is the very point of Christ being born on earth. Dickens’ writing tells the tale on both levels, secular and religious. It may be the best way to celebrate the holiday for both believer and non-believer.