We’ve probably all seen those bumper stickers before: An image of the virgin Mary kneeling by a manger in prayer, with “Jesus is the reason for the season” boldly displayed below. We’ve also probably all heard the story at some time or another in our lives, the story of a son of god born to man in a stable, the story of three wise men, bearing gifts, the story of the child who would one day sacrifice himself for all our sins. Everywhere we look in this storm of Christmastime consumerism there are people striving to remind us that this holiday was originally a religious one of incredible importance.
Today, however, this is no longer anywhere near as true as it used to be. As a demonstration, check out any list of “top Christmas movies.” If your internet is anything like mine, the only movie that includes religious themes in that list will be “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Today the focus of the holiday season for most people isn’t religious at all. For some December is a month where we celebrate the giving of gifts, for others it’s the month in which we celebrate the past year, and for still more it’s simply a time when the family comes together in joyful reunion. And, as evidenced by the preponderance of bumper stickers, a great many people are upset by this secularization of the holiday.
I, however, am not one that list. As times change, the things we celebrate change as well. We live, in general, in a much more secular world now than existed 2,000 1,000 or even 300 years ago, when societies such as Ancient Egypt and Rome, , and even medieval Europe united rule of law and religion. As such, it is unsurprising and no cause for alarm if the holidays become slightly more secular. Furthermore, the secularization of these holidays allows everyone to find their own personally meaningful reasons to celebrate. On Christmas for example, I don’t celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, savior of mankind. I celebrate a holiday spent with my family, giving and receiving gifts and trying to make each other happy. This allows Christmas to be a truly meaningful holiday for me in a way that a religious version couldn’t.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I believe every single reason for celebrating Christmas is a good one, that the holiday’s religious roots don’t deserve recognition and respect, or that secularization can’t go too far. I don’t think, for example, that we should celebrate Christmas as the day on which you get a lot of presents. And I do believe that as long as we celebrate this holiday it’s important to acknowledge and respect its original roots and meanings. But secular reasons for celebrating a holiday that was originally deeply religious are not, in and of themselves, bad things. They are simply us taking a holiday that pervades society and giving ourselves a reason to love it.