Why it’s important to remember the ‘Christ’ in Christmas

Earlier this week, my Postmedia Network colleague Lorne Gunter (who typically appears on the opposite page) wrote a column with the headline ‘Christmas is for everyone, so let’s celebrate it’.

Realistically, this was another way for Gunter to attack whatever the politically-correct flavour of the week is. Fair play. In his column, Gunter argues that Christmas has become “as much a culture celebration as a religious one — probably even more so”.

There’s a lot of truth to that. Many non-Christian families celebrate Christmas. Even many culturally or nominally Christian families who celebrate the holiday don’t attend church services on Christmas day. I’m taking a different stance. Call me Scrooge, but Christmas should be for Christians. The idea that Christmas should just be some generic cultural holiday for everyone to embrace is, in my eyes, offensive to both Christians and non-Christians.

Now, those of you who read my column regularly (amazingly, this is a thing) may remember last year I wrote a piece titled ‘A Merry Muslim Christmas’ wherein I insisted I prefer to be wished Merry Christmas over Happy Holidays. This is still the case. So, aren’t I contradicting myself?

As a Muslim, my family never celebrated Christmas. I still don’t. However, I stated that I don’t mind being wished Merry Christmas, because I appreciate the sentiments of kindness and generosity, which are consistent among all the Abrahamic religions.  That doesn’t mean I’m celebrating Christmas just by acknowledging it as a festival that’s taking place for many of my Christian colleagues and friends.

It’s disingenuous to say Christmas is all about coming together as a family and showing our appreciation for one another and doing kind things for people. Those may be aspects of what people do on Christmas, but that’s not what Christmas celebrates. It’s a day to mark the day of Christianity’s most important figure, Jesus Christ (even though the actual day of his birth is not known and the day was picked to align with the Winter Solstice).

From a non-Christian standpoint, presenting Christmas as a holiday for all suggests that the Biblical story of Jesus Christ is a kind of self-evident truism that everyone accepts. That’s not the case. Furthermore, it turns the Biblical narrative into background music for whatever you want the holiday to be. This should be off-putting to Christians who want to focus on the reason for the season and it’s also off-putting to considerate non-Christians like myself, who understand that they wouldn’t like people celebrating their religious festivals as merely cultural events or downplaying their religious beliefs.

The transformation of Christmas from a holiday centred around faith to one centred around “culture” (read: consumerism) comes from our society’s relentless insistence that we need to constantly buy more things. If more people from more cultural backgrounds celebrate Christmas, more people will buy presents at the same time of year. Genius! No wonder there’s no gap between Halloween and Christmas anymore.

But to water down Christmas into what is effectively a celebration of consumerism is to devalue its true meaning. Christmas isn’t about presents, hot chocolate, Santa Claus or decorating offices: those are side aspects of celebrating the birth of the man Christians believe was the Saviour.

While we can all agree that core values of Christmas like generosity, compassion and spending time with family are great, we should also agree that appropriating a religious festival for fake feel-good inclusion and promoting consumer culture is wrong.

A tough time of year, for some

While Christmas is generally associated with feelings of joy and happiness, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge how depressing and stressful this time of year is for some people. While many people get stressed about buying presents/preparing for guests or parties, there are those who don’t actually have anyone to buy gifts for. There are those who are reminded of their loneliness and heartache at what is the most difficult time of year for them.

I have some friends going through some tough times this year and I can’t even begin to imagine what the community of Spruce Grove is going through after Monday’s devastating murder-suicide, where a father killed his two sons.

Let’s try and remember that this time of year isn’t joyful for all. If you have someone like this in your life, make an effort to lend a helping hand. Merry Christmas.

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