Trending Debate: Christmas is no longer a religious festival

Rachel Munford
Let’s get a few things straight: Christmas isn’t Christmas anymore. The real meaning of Christmas has been left behind in a vast whirlwind of consumerism which seems to be the main reason why Christmas can no longer be considered a religious festival.

Christmas has now morphed into a universal festival; people around the world can unite on Christmas day in a celebration of love and family. It can be celebrated in schools and, from my experience, partaking in the Christmassy-giving spirit is not exclusive to Christians.

Also Santa has replaced Jesus at the head of the table. You are more likely to see Santa, or a reindeer, splattered all over an advertising campaign rather than a nice nativity scene. There is wide spread acceptance of Santa and he is welcomed into every fair, shopping centre and kids’ party. The nativity is pushed aside in favour of the giant inflatable Snowman. Not that this is a good thing: I’m quite against the consumer culture and historic figures being used to encourage sales.

If we ignore the consumerist aspect, we can consider the implications of the decreasing membership of religions, mainly that of Christianity. Membership of every religion has decreased but now those who argue that Christmas is a religious festival can’t argue that it’s for the majority. I am sure the vast majority of people out buying Christmas presents for their loved ones at this time are not buying presents, turkeys and other things for the celebration of Jesus’s birth; but rather, for the tradition of having family all together in one place or whatever tradition is held in their household and being able to show their appreciation for one another. Or perhaps having a sit-down meal with your other half’s parents? Not many people actually attend a religious service over the season and many don’t see this as a spiritual time. But with the increasing number identifying that they have no religion (this increased by 5.8 million between 2001 and 2011 – the Guardian UK, 2013), so why should they feel it’s a religious festival?

You can be any religion (or not in the case of agnostics) and still fully enjoy the Christmas period. However what I object to the most in this sort of debate is religion trying to claim rights on something that was never theirs in the first place.

Christmas was originally Yule which was a Pagan festival. So I don’t think any religion should now have monopoly over what Christmas has turned into. Creating exclusivity by stating that you should be a certain religion to enjoy something creates factions and that is clearly not what Christmas is about now. You can go out with anyone over the Christmas period for parties, work night outs, family dinners and still have a blast with your Santa hat on. You’re definitely not thinking about the spiritual implications of a baby being born a very long time ago – you’re probably thinking about getting plastered!

Emer O’Toole

It has been widely acknowledged for years now that the “true meaning of Christmas” has been overshadowed by commercialisation, focus on materialism and premature advertising. Speaking of the latter, every year we eagerly await to see the John Lewis Christmas advert. This year was no different. This time it’s a Disney-esque cartoon featuring a bear and hare walking through the woods during winter. The hare despairs because the bear will hibernate through Christmas so gives the bear an incentive to keep him awake. This ploy works since the present is an alarm clock, allowing the pair to celebrate the festivities together. The advert features no material goods with the exception of the alarm clock. This adheres to the alternative Christmas message that love should be at the centre of the season. The hare does not receive a present yet still enjoys Christmas anyway. It is ironic that this somewhat anti-consumerism message was conveyed to us by the retail giants themselves.

Despite the sentiment behind it, the keep Christ in Christmas campaign is flawed. I’ve seen Christians take ‘Season’s Greetings’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ as a full on attack against their faith. This is the wrong approach. It wasn’t culture that removed Christ from Christmas. It was us. These greetings are merely used as a distinction between the commercial and the spiritual.

There’s nothing religious about turkey, reindeer, family dinners and shopping. How do we face the difference between the true meaning of Christmas and the concepts that have become cultural norms? It’s true that Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated more than Eid, Hannakah or any other religious festival. We all look forward to getting a day off on the 25th of December. It could be argued that the government has officially advocated a holiday for one religion. However, this does not make Christmas any less religious. That is not to suggest that it is necessary to be religious to celebrate Christmas. It is a unique holiday in the sense that its universal themes of love, family and togetherness can be celebrated by all. There is something charming about children’s wonderment and the widespread sentiment of goodwill associated with the season. However, if we have to ask ourselves whether Christmas is still fundamentally a religious festival with the abundance of gifts, shopping and decorations, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider the true meaning of what we’re actually celebrating and how we can change.

Consumerism has taken over. Of course, there is an underlying message in the John Lewis Christmas advert: don’t forget about the shops you know and love when you’re shopping for gifts this year. In the words of Louisa May Alcott’s heroine Jo March, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!” Actually, it would still be Christmas, but an alternative one that hasn’t been overlooked by consumer needs.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);