Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Are we celebrating Christmas or celebrating our humanity?

Among my parents best friends when I was growing up were the Jewish family across the street. 
There was a running joke about the “Hanukah Bush” they put up every year at Christmas time.  I didn’t quite get the joke at the time; but it was clear that our Jewish friends were celebrating Christmas.

One might wonder what Christmas means in a secular society?  And, what did it mean to our friends who weren’t Christians?

In western society, there is a common bond that is best expressed and best celebrated at this time of year.  Responding to a blog post titled “How Non-Christians Deal with Christmas”, a reader named Safiq Ali Patel said, “I come from a mixed Muslim, Christian and Jewish family. I celebrate Christmas because I like the theme of love, peace, joy and goodwill to ALL men. God didn't come to earth just for Christians...”

Mr. Patel expresses the best of the western Christian tradition, a tradition expressed in terms of “humanism”, a philosophy that emphasizes the value of people both individually and collectively.  The tenets of humanism can be traced to the ancient Greek philosophers and they re-emerge throughout history. 

Many associate humanist philosophy with atheism but it might better be associated with separation of church and state.  Persecution of those who do not embrace the religion sponsored by the state has resulted in the death and torture of thousands throughout history.  During the Spanish Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, the inquisitor-general, is said to have executed over 2000 Spaniards.  Ironically, this was done in the name of Christianity.

The modern interpretation of humanism is “human rights”, a set of principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  These concepts are powerfully attractive, not only to us in the West but also, to people the world over. The concept of self-rule, championed by Jefferson and Voltaire, is fundamental to the Arab Spring.  Although European in concept, these ideas now form the basis on which the international community judges nations. 

The Christian values of tolerance and love for our fellow man are powerfully attractive to Christians and non-Christians alike.  People of all faiths can embrace the annual celebration of Christmas.  People respond to the sense of charity, love and forgiveness espoused by Jesus Christ because those values and the emotion we attach to them are fundamental to us as human beings.  

The angel who announced the birth of Christ to the world said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people….”

All people…


  1. Yes, I agree these values are good for all.

  2. Jason G. Ramage, MS, MBA, RBP
    Staff Scientist
    Top Contributor

    But John, there is a WAR on CHRISTmas going on. Haven't you heard?

    I agree with what you wrote of course. I'm not religious (born-again atheist but who believes in the messages of Christ without the god component; a bit cumbersome, probably won't catch on) but I still celebrate it anyway, and a pox on those who claim the holiday belongs solely to Christians. (news flash - there's no definitive proof Jesus was born on December 25, and many of the trappings of Christmas have nothing to do with Christ anyway. I'm talking to you, O Christmas tree!)

  3. Christopher Smith
    Senior Consultant at Deloitte

    In a secular sense, Christmas is nothing more than a designated time of year to wallow in materialism.
    I've always been a humbug. No lights, no decorations, nothing. If there's a moment to get someone a gift, just do it, whether or not it's Christmas.
    Now that there is an little one in the house, we're doing the string of Advent stockings and such. Actually having a family moves things in the direction of more traditional Christmas activities.

  4. Glenn Schatz
    Energy Technology Program Specialist at U.S. Department of Energy

    John, this is a great blog entry. Short, thoughtful, and salient.

  5. Alison Brown
    Feminist Civic & Social Organization Leader

    I am celebrating the solstice.
    An' it hurt none, do as you will...
    Seems pretty humanistic to me.

  6. Nick Butler, CD, CFP
    Investment Advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns

    It's always been my observation that Christmas in the Western World (and indeed in some Asian countries to which it spread) has nothing whatsoever to do with any sort of Christian religious event. Indeed, it probably never has. It was invented to co-opt a variety of pagan celebrations related to the winter solstice. I read not long ago a piece that noted that until it became the commercial holiday it is now, it wasn't even a particularly significant time of year within Christianity, Easter was far more important.

    I was raised in a non-religious household, and I am an atheist, but Christmas was always celebrated if for no other reason that to brighten up the short and dark days of winter, to discuss the value of sharing what we had with others less fortunate, and so on. If those are vaguely "Christian" ideas, that's fine, but I suspect that they predate the religion, and ever religion around the world has something comparable. If we're celebrating humanity in that sense, I'd submit that we always have been, and that's all the holiday really has ever been.

  7. Shannon Moneo
    Independent Writing and Editing Professional

    Shouldn't they be one and the same?

  8. Deborah Hess
    Technical Documentation,Communication & Design; Policy/Information Technology Research & Analysis; Information Security

    Why does it have to be religious? Why can't it simply be Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays? Why not celebrate the return of the sun and the longer days ahead?

    Better yet, why not have Peace on Earth and Joy to the World 365 days a year, not just one?

  9. Pam Tonothy
    Scientist (Thermal Analysis) and Former Teacher

    Most people have taken the Christ out of Christmas and celebrate materialism anyway, so what's the big deal? People will do as they will.

  10. Shannon Moneo
    Independent Writing and Editing Professional

    "Season's Greeting" and "Happy Holidays" are generic, meaningless. It's like saying "Have a good day."
    Here in Canada it's easy to see where the politically correct directive has infiltrated workplaces. "Merry Christmas" might offend someone. Ha!
    CHRISTmas once meant something noble. Perhaps I'm deceiving myself, but to me, Christmas is a time to examine how we treat others, give to those in need and enjoy a special meal, kind of like what Christ did.
    What does Christmas mean to others?

  11. Julia Lansberry

    The seasonal celebration, as a "festival of lights", exists in a great many cultures and religious traditions, and doubtless antedates the named holidays of modern organized religions per se. Certainly it's a celebration of our humanity, of having survived another year, of hope for the year to come, and of anything you like! :)

  12. Nick Butler, CD, CFP
    Investment Advisor at BMO Nesbitt Burns

    Shannon, that has less to do with "political correctness" (and the hilariously fictitious "War on Christmas") and more to do with the fact that we live in a multicultural society where not everyone celebrates Christmas. Not only that, but the season includes multiple holidays - it's just easier to say Happy Holidays to cover "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year". Despite the suggestion that legions of people are some how grievously offended by "Happy Holidays", I can't say I've met too many people that are.

    To be fair, perhaps Happy Holidays is generic and meaningless, but so to is Merry Christmas to most people, given that it's just a flurry of consumerism.

  13. Anthony Olszewski
    Organizer and manager of Jersey City Free Books
    Top Contributor

    Maybe around 25 years ago, the Wall Street Journal had an article on the celebration of Christmas in Japan. The reporter wrote (tongue in cheek?) that in Japan, Christmas has no religious significance, it's just an excuse to go to parties and to exchange gifts. And those were the good old days, Today's holiday news coverage of Black Friday sales results and shopping assaults shows a society that's skewed from secularism to barbarism.