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.