The Holiday Season, Secular

The Holiday Season, Secular

I know we just had Christmas and Hanukkah, and before that Thanksgiving. New Year’s is a few days away. I’m not Christian or Jewish.

But Christmas is my favorite holiday. And not just the day – the entire month leading up to it. It’s all my favorite.

Most people who know me know that my guilty pleasure is watching those terrible made-for-TV Christmas movies. You know the ones. I know they’re terrible, but I’ll still binge-watch them, cry at the endings, and then complain about how ridiculous it is that I’m crying at this terrible movie.

Growing up, Christmas was always a magical time of year. I was born in Connecticut, so the prospect of a white Christmas was a real possibility. The songs made more sense up there than they do in Texas – Sleigh Ride, Frosty the Snowman, etc. And the thought of freezing all winter was fine and tolerable as long as there were pretty, sparkly decorations everywhere to brighten up the gloomy skies.

And when it did snow? Every time was amazing. I moved to Texas before I ever had to drive to work on icy roads or shovel snow from a driveway, so my memories of snow involve not having to go to school, playing outside, and then running back inside 15 minutes later for hot chocolate when I got cold.

I was that kid who loved how pristine the snow was. I wanted to preserve the blanket, so I’d leave perfect and deliberate footprints wherever I walked. I didn’t want to disrupt what I had been given. Of course, my perfect footprints would only last as long as it took my brothers to suit up and come outside.

My house was the place to be for Christmas. We had an enormous tree that we put up in our game room. It was covered in red and gold decorations, and it was always overflowing with presents. My aunts, uncles, and cousins from both sides of the family would come over on Christmas Eve – and I have about 10,000 cousins, give or take. It was a full house. We’d have dinner, eat cookies, dance, sing…and then right at midnight, we’d open all of the presents.

Those are some of my best childhood memories.

Notably absent from all of this? Jesus.

Yes, my brothers and I knew the story of Jesus and how he died on the cross. We knew that we were celebrating his birthday. We knew the context of the songs we were singing. We knew the traditions inside and out.

But we weren’t a Christian household. There was no worship happening. We didn’t go to church in the morning. We were essentially celebrating the secular side of a religious holiday.

It wasn’t until very recently that I realized some people aren’t cool with that.

Now, not that it really matters what other people have a problem with, it’s worth trying to understand.

First of all, I would argue that many Christians celebrate the holiday the same way that I do. They’re not going to church in the morning, either, but they’re still getting together with their loved ones, exchanging gifts, and singing songs. They’re decorating their homes with things that actually have nothing to do with Jesus at all, and some of them don’t even put a star on top of their trees anymore. Bows are more Pinterest-friendly…

I know the argument is that many practicing Christians want to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but he’s already there. He’s in the songs. He’s in our nativity scenes. He’s in our plays. He’s still being acknowledged.

But what exactly are they looking for? Presumably, they’d seek to make it a more religiously-focused holiday because the commercial side of it has taken over. That would mean less aggressive gift giving. That would also mean no Christmas trees, no cheesy Christmas movies, no Santa, no elves, no Frosty, no songs that don’t mention Jesus…

Or it would mean that anyone who is not a practicing Christian isn’t allowed to celebrate the holiday.

But what’s the benefit of that?

I get it. No one likes to see the bastardization of something they hold sacred. People don’t like seeing others strip something of its meaning (assuming that’s what’s happening), and they certainly don’t like seeing people profit off of it.

But, is it really the worse thing in the world? The notion of a religion being exclusive is pretty hypocritical in and of itself. Religions were always intended to be warm and welcoming. Their main priority is to spread a message. The more people there are celebrating Christmas – in whatever capacity – the more people you have acknowledging and celebrating an aspect of Christianity.

Maybe the rest will come later. Maybe it won’t. Even if it doesn’t, though, that’s fine. Because the alternative is a less-festive Christmas season.

Isn’t it wonderful to go out and tell people “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” or whatever? It’s like the song goes,

“I feel it in my fingers; I feel it in my toes. Christmas is all around me, and so the feeling grows.”

It’s a ridiculous song, sure, but the message isn’t wrong. When the holidays are embraced by society, it becomes more significant. If it’s not significant in the specific way that some people would like it to be, that seems to be a personal problem.

Take it from a girl who grew up as a Muslim, celebrating a holiday that no one knew anything about. And when no one knows anything about your holiday, you don’t get a week off from school to celebrate it. Instead, you have to just hope you don’t have an exam that day, and if you do, you’re at the mercy of your professor to let you make it up later. And at work? You often have to take a sick day to celebrate what would be the equivalent of Christmas with your family. Another nice perk that you don’t get? Holiday sales and super cute gift packages in the stores. There are no festive decorations everywhere, and there are no songs playing 24/7 on the radio for the month leading up to it.

I should clarify that I’m really not complaining about any of this. I simply pointing out how things could be.

Alternatively, Holi is an Indian festival that celebrates color, light, and love. You’ve seen the images everywhere – people running around in parks, covered in a rainbow of different colors. It’s quite trendy, now. It makes for an interesting snap or Instagram post, to say the least.

I guarantee you that most of the people celebrating Holi in the parks are not doing it in recognition of the Hindu tradition. What likely happened was someone said, “Hey, there’s this Holi thing in the park this weekend. It’s fun…you run around and throw colored powder on people. You down?” And then someone replied, “Sure, let’s do it.”

And now it’s a thing. And now we’re all “woke” to Eastern religious customs. And now it’s just another thing that we use to make ourselves look like more interesting people to strangers.

But all in all, it’s an amazing thing. If it’s spreading happiness and light in the world, then we’re not really in a position right now to decline it. Let’s take it. Let’s take all the holidays. Let’s live respectfully amongst each others and embrace – or at least understand – each others customs, traditions, and holidays.

Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but for what little bit of that we already have in our society, let’s just keep it.

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