Home for the Holidays: Celebrating a Cultural Christmas

Each December--or even earlier--there are some people who like to get up in arms over the War on Christmas. They want to "keep the Christ in Christmas" and they see "Happy Holidays" as an attack on their faith. They may not agree that the "reason for the season" may include a variety of winter holidays, such as Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and, yes, Christmas.

Happy holidays aside, is Christmas itself a religious holiday? Yes and no. Christians do celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, with special masses and other religious traditions, and that is a lovely part of their faith that no one is taking away from them. Yet "Christmas" has become more than that.

In the United States, Christmas is a Federal holiday. Many businesses close and the kids are home from school, making it a perfect time for family gatherings. The majority of Christmas traditions either exist without religion (Santa, Frosty the snowman, etc.) or have evolved as a blend of earlier pagan or other religious celebrations (decorated trees, Yule logs, holiday feasts, etc.)

A growing number of religious "nones" see Christmas as a cultural holiday, not a religious one. Americans of other faiths may also celebrate a cultural Christmas.

What does a cultural Christmas celebration look like?

As an atheist, my Christmas festivities include many of the traditional, secular aspects of the holiday:

  • Gathering with family
  • Putting up a Christmas tree and other decorations
  • Baking and frosting holiday cookies
  • Listening to holiday music
  • Giving gifts to family and friends
  • Donating food/clothes/money to local charities
  • Having gifts from "Santa" appear under the tree and in our stockings 

We also have some of our own family traditions, such as:

  • Celebrating the winter solstice
  • Watching Elf on Christmas Eve (or another holiday movie, but usually Elf!) 
  • Opening one gift each on Christmas Eve (which is always new pajamas)
  • Ordering pizza on Christmas Eve and Chinese food on Christmas Day
  • Going to a movie on Christmas Day, after opening presents

My celebration of Christmas as a cultural holiday does nothing to stop Christians from celebrating their religious holiday. It brings a spot of joy and light into the dark winter season. It makes me feel more connected to my neighbors and to my larger community. And, it's fun.

I like to think of Christmas as a season of love and kindness. However you choose to celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a very happy New Year.


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