Should Non-Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Non-religious friends and associates often ask me if I’m offended when they express a lack of belief in traditional religion, usually with the tone of an apologizing diplomat. I assure them that such ideas are not inherently offensive. However, ironically, few people seem to worry about something which truly is offensive: the warping of traditional religious belief itself.

We’re trained to resist offense and be as accommodating as necessary so that nobody feels that their toes are stepped on.  To that end, the public celebration of Christmas, enshrined for generations as a bedrock part of American culture, has been quietly stripped of religious significance.  We’re now to the bizarre Orwellian point where we see many voices in the media complaining that the secular holiday of Christmas is being infringed upon by nosy Christians. 

Glancing at the news this morning over my breakfast, I saw a local news channel announcing a contest: they’d be giving away a “holiday tree.”  What?  Why is Christmas picked on like this?  (Have you ever heard of a “holiday menorah?”)  Why are so many in our country desperate to preserve the commercial trappings of Christmas long after they’ve abandoned its spiritual significance?

If society appropriated parts of any other religion’s rituals or sacraments and adapted them to a secular mainstream, they’d be grossly offended, and rightly so.  If anyone did market a “holiday menorah” for non-Jews, or advocated decorating homes with statues of Vishnu and putting bindi dots on people’s foreheads–all the while scoffing at the concept of any inherent association with Hinduism–followers of those faiths could be justifiably outraged. 

So also with Christmas.  We give gifts at Christmas to remember the ultimate gift–the birth of Jesus Christ, and to follow the example of the wise men who brought offerings to the young Christ child.  There is no other reason for anything attached to Christmas (which still bears His name–Christmas).  The Santa-and-reindeer, Frosty the snowman, jingle bells aspect of Christmas is a secondary augmentation of the true holiday, not a primary, secular alternative.  As Lincoln said, calling a tail a leg doesn’t actually make it a leg; similarly, calling two men in a relationship a married couple doesn’t actually make them married, and calling a secular winter celebration Christmas isn’t really Christmas.

To ape the tradition of gift giving for greed, to curry favor with children, to indulge in the comfortable remnants of a heritage you’ve chosen to abandon, or to contribute to the economy is flatly, baldly sacrilegious. 

No Christians are saying this because we want to be tolerant and inclusive, to avoid the appearance of the narrow-minded stereotype that’s been imposed on us.  But, considered in this light, how can a non-practicing Christian justify celebrating Christmas?  Is it time for Christians to stand up for their Savior and ask firmly that America call the symbol of His birth a Christmas tree or not display one at all? 

We use the term “holiday season” now to designate a generic winter period, but when I was a kid, it was understood to refer specifically to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s…three holidays with purely Christian origins.

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