I was struck recently when I walked into a WalMart store and saw a group of trees aligned in a neat little row. It wasn’t the trees themselves that grabbed me, but what the trees represented: Christmas. All of the sparkling lights wrapped around their limbs; the shelves of baroque ornaments beside them; the glowing, backyard reindeer and the blow-up Santa Claus – they all represented one religion and one religion only.
As a celebrator myself, I really haven’t questioned Christmas decorations before. They have been a permanent part of December shelves my entire life. The weighted preference for Christmas shows up essentially everywhere in my life: at school, signs for “Merry Christmas” are hung rather than “Happy Holidays”; kids are asked what they want from Santa for the daycare I volunteer at; nearly every commercialized product – movies, TV commercials, even TV networks – show Christmas bias. And with nearly everything catered to the holiday I celebrate, why should I have any reason to balk at an ordinary line of Christmas trees?
The balking started when I placed myself in the shoes of a Hanukah or Kwanza celebrator. Standing before all those glittering trees, I began to wonder: are they at all bothered? Would they rather see dreidals and Menorahs at department stores? Kinara candles and Mkekas? Would they rather hear “Happy Hanukah” over “Merry Christmas”? The December month is, after all, filled with more marked days than the 25th: Rohatsu for Buddhists, Yule for Pagans, Hanukkah for the Jewish, Kwanzaa, and many more. Ninety percent of Americans may celebrate Christmas, but what about that other ten percent? Do they mind that Christmas is the focus?
I received an answer to that question, oddly enough, in math class. While working on our homework two weeks before the end of semester, my teacher asked the class whether we’d like to listen to Christmas carols. At the suggestion, I turned to a friend of mine, who is Jewish, and asked him whether he minded. He promptly answered that he didn’t care. I was, to say the very least, surprised. Later that same day, after mentioning the story to my sister, she told me that two of her Jewish friends enjoyed participating in Christmas. Similarly, the following week in seminar, I noticed a student I knew from the Muslim religion licking candy canes and chatting with colleagues about Christmas presents.
After witnessing this, I figured that maybe these people aren’t bothered. But that got me started down a different road: is it that they don’t mind, or has Christmas evolved into a holiday void of the religious significance?
According to a Gallup Poll, only 42% of those that celebrate Christmas do so out of religious association; the rest do so half-heartedly (31%) and some with no religious affiliation whatsoever (26%). Moreover, only half of Americans actually believe in the true origins of Christmas (that being the birth of Jesus Christ), while 40% believe it is a stunt to reaffirm faith in Jesus and 10% are undecided.
Many would read this and see it as an antic to make anyone who celebrates Christmas without religious affiliation to feel guilty. That, however, is not the point. Regardless of the religion you follow or the holiday you celebrate, December is a time for giving, a time to be with those you love and cherish, and to reflect on the year’s good graces. Whether that takes your faith into account or not is a personal decision for every human being. When Christmas – or any holiday for that matter – is made out to be a greed for gifts, ignorance to all other religions in the world, and having the best light display, that’s where problems spout.
Even worse, the same poll reports that only 49% of Americans believe that stores should greet customers “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” A staggering 51% actually disagree for reasons I fail to understand. Are “Seasons Greetings” any less warm than “Merry Christmas”?
Maybe it’s a good thing that no one is bothered by the huge preference towards Christmas.
Or is it?
Is it a good thing that people from separate religions aren’t bothered by the fact that their holidays are neither supported nor recognized by schools and daycares and stores? Is it a good thing that Santa Claus delivers to every household – even when every household doesn’t celebrate Christmas?