One of the earliest secondary school assemblies I remember was about the meaning of Christmas. A teacher presented us with a shoebox, which contained several smaller boxes. Each box, she said, represented a layer to the meaning of Christmas: Consumerism, Food, School holidays and family time. Finally, she revealed the box with the true meaning of Christmas – A celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
As a twelve year old, this bothered me. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year, but her definition of christmas failed to include me and people of other faiths. Eight years on, I still love to celebrate Christmas but continue to enjoy the celebrations without the addition of Christianity.
The fact that Christianity does not play a part of my everyday life may seem at odds with my obvious enthusiasm for the festive season, however, I would argue that this is a growing trend. This is not just personal opinion, census records support this observation: England is an increasingly secular and diverse country.
I personally enjoy Christmas in the broadest sense of the word: as a Mid-Winter Festival
According to the 2011 census, 25.1% of the population identify as non-religious, up from 14.8% in 2001. 8% of the population identify as following a religion other than Christianity such as Islam.
It is not only Christians who enjoy spending quality time with their extended families without the pressures of everyday life. However, it is only Christians who have their religious festivals acknowledged with national bank holidays.
To me it seems reasonable for atheists and people of different religions to find their own meaning of Christmas. There are no bank holidays in England for Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, or any other non-Christian religious celebrations. Why not make the most of the time off work to be with the people you love since this is not facilitated by the state during your own religious festivals? Indeed, the Punjabi Sikh side of my family does just that and celebrates with a decorated tree, a roast dinner and time together on Christmas day.
I personally enjoy Christmas in the broadest sense of the word: as a Mid-Winter Festival. I find it fascinating that celebrations around the time of the Winter Solstice can be observed across cultures, time and geography. Some may be surprised to know that these cross-cultural festivities pre-date Christianity. Why should the ancient tradition of celebrating a Mid-Winter Festival, which transcends cultures across history, now be prescribed a uniquely Christian meaning?
I for one will be enjoying Christmas as a time of togetherness and hope that everyone, whether Christian or not, will enjoy the festive season
I will admit that some Christmas traditions are certainly exclusively Christian, like primary school nativity plays or carol singing. However, other Christmas traditions are not intrinsically related to Christianity; I believe that anyone should be able to eat a mince pie, watch the Queen’s speech or gift presents to their family and friends.
I start my Christmas day by taking turns to open stocking presents with my sister. Next comes a special family breakfast with pastries and good coffee. We go for a walk in the countryside surrounding my small town then get back home and prepare Christmas dinner all together listening to music. Christmas roast is eaten in the early afternoon before opening presents from our close family, while drinking Bucks Fizz. The evening is spent together in front of the fire, watching the Christmas special of Doctor Who.
I have realised in the years since that first assembly that what my secular Christmas day lacks in spirituality. Instead my christmas consists of time spent with family appreciating each other and engaging in our family traditions.
However you and your community choose to celebrate this December, it is worth remembering that Christmas is a time for unity and peace. As students, it can be easy to spend the Christmas break recovering from the shock of first term and forget that Christmas is also an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends at home. I for one will be enjoying Christmas as a time of togetherness and hope that everyone, whether Christian or not, will enjoy the festive season.