There is something pallid and depressing about wishing someone a ‘happy holiday’ in place of a hearty ‘Merry Christmas’ or offering a feeble ‘Season’s greetings’ rather than just getting on with it and hoping they have a really fun Christmas with their family. What is there to be ashamed of? The 25th December is Christmas Day in most Western calendars, so what are we hiding from?
Well of course the argument goes that Christmas is a Christian festival and therefore publicly celebrating it must surely cause offence to non-Christians. I have to admit that I have never actually met anyone who professes a statement along those lines. That is probably because anyone with the slightest sense of reasoned judgement, in other words the majority of the British population, realises how utterly inane such a view is. We live in a multicultural society in which tolerance and respect seek, at least in theory to uphold our communities (although how depressingly this has been challenged this year).
…a relationship that is understandably controversial…
Trying to deny Christmas is positive discrimination gone crazy. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles made clear who the culprits were last year when he criticised local councils for toning down their Christmas themes for fear of causing offence. The shame is however, that it is the councils who face ridiculous condemnation from a minority of critics if they do not toe only the most profound politically correct line. Therefore in actively celebrating Christmas, the councils are seen to be reflecting a close relationship between the state and Christianity, a relationship that is understandably controversial and probably not appropriate in our modern, cosmopolitan society.
So what emphasis should be placed on Christmas? There must be a recognition of its significance as a religious festival for Christians. The Christmas tradition arose as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, an event that many people throughout the world continue to celebrate. But, there can be no denying that despite this, it’s religious significance has been diluted in the last 30 years as society becomes increasingly secular. That does not mean however, that the tradition of Christmas cannot continue, or for that matter that the religious aspects of this tradition cannot continue to be observed.
…iconography does not necessarily imply religious ideology…
Therefore, there must be a separation between Christian religious doctrine and Christian tradition. The nativity scene for example has been incorporated into European culture in a fashion that does not see it representing religious belief. It is instead seen as a traditional element of culture appearing in a variety of forms, from serious art to children’s stories. In short, iconography does not necessarily imply religious ideology.
Many lament the fact that the original ‘Christmas message’ has been hijacked by commercial opportunities, creating a culture of materialism that is so very far from it’s origins. It is hardly surprising that Christian celebration has been mixed with seasonal romanticism to create conditions where there is money to be made. Traditionalists can make such lamentations, but that is the reality they face. There is no obligation for them to participate within this frenzied cycle of consumerism.
…many people celebrate the non-religious aspects of Christmas…
Essentially there must be a balance struck in the public discourse over modern modes of the Christmas celebration. Religion’s role in Christmas cannot be denied. If this is likely to cause offence then those who feel strongly should disregard the celebration and go about their day as normal. Likewise, there must be a recognition that many people celebrate the non-religious aspects of Christmas whilst upholding many of it’s values. For example many enjoy being together at a family gathering, eating indulgently and watching good television. At the same time many also show kindness to those in need whilst appreciating their own favourable circumstances.
But wouldn’t it be ideal if we could just allow people to celebrate the day as they see fit? It is depressing that nonpartisan politics have been allowed to filter their way into what should be, if nothing else, a well deserved holiday. Peace and goodwill should transcend all religious and political boundaries, so I wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Image courtesy of Eric Pickles