A Merry "Non-Religious" Christmas

It's impossible to escape it. Shopping malls blaring out Christmas music accompanying with bright colored baubles and lights display in their windows. This well-loved festival is thrust into people's faces every year, sometimes even as early as November.

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. The numerous activities in the church, late-night cantata practices for the big show on Christmas Eve, and the caroling team spreading good cheer from house to house, all left us feeling exhausted but with a smile on our faces.

The reason for my celebration has always fallen back on religious traditions, making sure my kids grew up understanding the true meaning of Christmas and ensuring that while everyone else is out partying; my family and I are faithfully warming up the church pews.

It was the same routine every year with the same expectations, same anticipations, that is until now. This year, the holiday took a turn in view of my now drastic change of perception and how my years of religious compliance has turned into a carefree, more meaningful holiday season.

I remember the Christmas war in my community even before I had read or heard about it on social media. The debate about whether or not Christians should celebrate Christmas has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Christians on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons on the why or why not. While all these have continued year after year, it has never managed to dim the colorful lights or shut out the huge tree display at the foyer of the church entrance.

Despite being torn with guilt for participating in this recycled pagan celebration, I have held on to my secret love for Christmas that never went away.

Religious people would bemoan non-religious folks for celebrating this time of year totally ignoring the “real meaning” of Christmas. I have been drilled to ponder and marvel about the greatest gift of the season, without which there would be no Christmas.

The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.

– Burton Hills

It has been said that many have taken "Christ out of Christmas", which to me is both an accurate and ridiculous statement.

Significant portions of Christmas celebrations today don't originate in Christianity at all. Most of the Christian festivals are re-named versions of old pagan festivals. 25th December is strangely near to the winter solstice. Some evidence suggests that Christmas itself was merely a re-appropriation of the pagan festival of Saturnalia.

Where I come from, there are even socially accepted or unaccepted ways to greet each other. Wishing someone a Blessed Christmas is more appropriate than a Merry or Happy Christmas, chanting that true religion will not associate itself with anything to do with chance or luck, as the word hap in "happy Christmas" or merry in Merry Christmas implying merrymaking or secular happiness. Blessing means favour or gift bestowed by God, therefore wishing someone a Blessed Christmas means invoking God's favor upon a person and thus sounded more religiously appropriate.

Despite the on-going war about what's right and what's not, it is easier to get people to accept an ideology being imposed on them if they are told that it's "tradition" and the way things used to be rather than the truth, and so whether it is presented as truth or not, Christmas continues on.

I have felt guilty about my silent love for Christmas. I was worried that I might have somehow leech off of someone else’s holiday but I have never been able to single out the human spirit in the midst of all the religious traditions. Does it mean that family traditions of love, joy and sharing should be deemed lesser without a religious meaning?

The real meaning is the meaning we make ourselves – and it’s for life, not just for Christmas. This year for me, unlike Christmases gone by has nothing to do with religious or other ceremonial practices and everything to do with celebrating the life we have with the people we love.

It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.

– W.T. Ellis

During this time of the year, we see a heightened sense of empathy and compassion as people enjoy the things that so many are not privileged enough to have. If we are willing to extend our thinking and our compassion beyond our own little world, we can see ourselves as part of a global continuum of people and not wrapped up in the “special breed” mentality.

The traditions we embrace and adapt as second nature at Christmas emphasize the continuity in our lives and make us pause to think about change. At the turning of the year, we contemplate the past and look forward to the future. Non-religious people do not participate in the "war on Christmas" that tends to happen every year for an insignificant to no reason at all.

I may even be accused of being hypocritical for celebrating a Christian holiday without acknowledging it's true source. Why should the way I mark Christmas bother anyone? I am not attempting to take away anyone’s right to perform their religious duties, neither am I convincing anyone to displace their fiercely guarded traditions even if it's done half-heartedly.

I am convinced that families and friends are what create the celebration of the season. I feel no sense of hypocrisy nor do I shy away from singing the familiar and much loved Christmas songs that I sang for years in the choir or at home. Why should religious indignation deprive me of that? All I need to celebrate Christmas is a tree, beautiful lights, baked goodies, people I love, and some gifts and memories to share.

Christmas for me is also a time to think and reminisce. To be surrounded by the people we love can have such a positive impact on our spirit during this time. That is what Christmas means to most non-religious people. Getting to spend time with the people we love and catching up with old friends and reminiscing on old times.

Whether or not you support the idea of gift-giving during this season, there is something about witnessing people’s faces light up with joy as they open up their present. Just knowing that you're making someone happy should be the best gift there is. That is yet another reason that people who aren't religious celebrate Christmas; bringing joy to others in these stressful times. A little happiness to someone who needs it is amazing.

I believe Christmas belongs to anyone who wants it, and just because I stop attaching myself to some religious beliefs doesn’t mean I gave up believing in the love and joy of family.

Whatever your beliefs may or may not be rooted in, Christmas is the time of year when you head home for the kind of togetherness that is driven by a heightened intensity of rare love or one that drives you crazy, even possibly both.

And so, to my religious and non-religious friends, I wish you all a merry… blessed, if it’s more politically correct 🙂 Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah, from my heart. I hope you take it in a true spirit of humanity, something we can all agree upon.

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