I have been asked before why I celebrate Christmas as a non-believer and someone who doesn’t associate themselves with Christianity in any way. Many of my earliest memories of Christmas are linked to it as a Christian holiday – singing Christmas carols in the village square on Christmas Eve (We Three Kings was always my favourite), playing Mary in the school nativity play when I was five, even occasionally accompanying my grandmother to her parishes Christmas church service. But, I do not think it is a holiday than Christians alone can or should have any monopoly on.
My personal affection for Christmas comes mostly from nostalgia for some of my favourite childhood memories – big family Christmases, the excitement of all the novelty and the presents, and obviously the great food. Those memories are universal and aren’t affected by whether I thought the main man in the sky was the Lord or a big guy with a sack and a sleigh. We are a generation often defined by our love of nostalgia so I think it’s fairly reasonable for us to keep engaging with a holiday that gave us so many defining childhood moments, regardless of whether we believe in the religion it’s based on.
But also Christmas is not particularly religious anymore, so I don’t feel I am co-opting it. It has been commercialised to the extent that most ‘Christmas’ centric media is actually areligious. Father Christmas and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer are some of the most famous ‘Christmas’ characters, while hardly anyone could tell you the names of the Kings in the nativity story, or even tell you what myrrh is really supposed to do.
As much a celebration of capitalism and consumerism as anything else these days, after all Santa Claus’s iconic outfit that defines so much Christmas imagery, famously came from a Coca-Cola advert, rather than anything remotely spiritual. So many of the Christmas traditions I have nostalgia for are actually pagan in origin – the yuletide log, the holly and the mistletoe being brought in an hung over the fireplace. In fact the entire holiday was originally a pagan midwinter solstice celebration, it is generally agreed by many historians that Jesus was actually born in the summer. The festival was set at the 25th to better co-opt the midwinter celebrations the pagans were already having in order to more successfully convert them.
But even when it comes to the traditions that don’t have ancient pre-Christian roots, they were all just invented at some point and most have no Christian significance. Most of the Christmas carols aren’t religious, the tradition of exchanging presents isn’t either, and even Christmas trees were only brought to Britain in the 1840s by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert.
Ultimately, I also like celebrating Christmas because aside from the nostalgia it is a holiday that emphasises kindness to strangers and goodwill to all regardless of race faith or creed. Christians should welcome the lessening of the explicitly religious element, if it means that their message of goodwill is spread further and touches more people. I will always celebrate it, because it is a part of my family, my memories, and because there is a value in traditions regardless of their origin, they are valuable as long as they do no harm and bring us closer together, as families and as a country to have a shared celebration.
-Daisy Thomson, Culture and Opinions Editor