As soon as Thanksgiving ends, we begin the Christmas shopping season. To celebrate the birth of a man who said to “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor,” we spend more of our money than we do during any other time of the year.
We could debate forever whether consumerism has taken over the holiday season, if Nativity scenes should be displayed on public property, if “happy holidays” is the proper greeting or if there’s a “war on Christmas.” But bickering misses the whole point of the season. While I’m not completely certain, I imagine that Jesus would prefer his birthday to be celebrated by loving thy neighbor as thyself, rather than arguing about the decorations.
We also need to recognize that in the American melting pot, December is much more than just Christmas season. It’s a time of holidays for many different religions and cultures. As Daniel Munoz of the Texas Secular Humanists points out, this country doesn’t belong exclusively to Christians.
Indeed, it should be noted that even Dec. 25th doesn’t belong exclusively to Christians. Despite the popular saying, Jesus isn’t even the original “reason for the season.” The day we celebrate Christmas, Dec. 25th, coincides with the winter solstice on the Julian calendar — and not by accident. In ancient agrarian societies, the changing of seasons was of huge importance. Even Pope Benedict XVI recognized that the Christmas holiday “acquired its definitive form in the fourth century when it replaced the Roman Feast of the Sol Invictus.” Even before the birth of Jesus and the Sol Invictus, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival in honor of their god Saturn, around Dec. 25th.
Regardless of the origins of Christmas, we can’t forget that other holidays are also celebrated during this time. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t make this “the most wonderful time of the year” for people of all beliefs. For Daley Epstein, a Plan II, history and business junior, “the holiday season and the holiday of Hanukkah hold separate meanings.” She enjoys practicing the ancient traditions of Judaism and celebrating the religious aspects of Hanukkah with her family and friends. But she also enjoys the holiday season in general, which she considers a secular concept: “The ideas of holiday cheer, philanthropy and spending time with friends and family align with my religious beliefs and are customary for Hanukkah, but I additionally value their presence during this time of year for their unifying qualities, religion aside.”
While he personally celebrates Hanukkah, freshman Corey Schneider notes, “I don’t think that the specific holidays mean as much as their accompanying ‘holiday spirit.’ I think that the holidays are a designated time to be with family and enjoy the spirit of family, something we often overlook in our busy daily lives. I think everyone should engage in the holiday spirit and enjoy their family, regardless of their religion.”
Munoz agrees: “Non-Christians in America should be free not to celebrate Christmas, but everybody can get behind the season’s secular message: peace on Earth, goodwill towards all.” While he is an atheist, Munoz greatly values the season’s spirit of giving, suggesting, “Why don’t we follow the biblical Magi and celebrate Christmas by giving to the poor?”
Hannah Mery, a Plan II freshman, does believe that Christmas “definitely is a Christian holiday,” but she doesn’t think that non-Christians shouldn’t enjoy the holidays. The most important thing, she says, is “coming together with family and celebrating each other, no matter what our beliefs.”
Regardless of religion, give “peace on earth and goodwill to men” a chance. Help those in need. Spend time with those you care about. Relax. Enjoy yourself. And hopefully, as Epstein advised, we can “remember that the values of the holiday season are something that shouldn’t be limited to this time of year, but something we should strive to engage in year-round.”
McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.
Printed on Friday, December 6, 2012 as: Holiday season doesn't need a reason