In just under two months’ time, we’ll be celebrating another Christmas? Or will we?
It’s that time of year when certain sections of the press look for news stories about how bureaucracy is suppressing the the true meaning of Christmas on the grounds of anti-discrimination. I would argue that the real problem is the cheapening of Christmas by those who don’t even believe in Christ.
This post has come out of conversations on Twitter over the last two days with a number of atheists. I have found it particularly interesting that even though they don’t believe in God or Christ, they are quite happy to use the name ‘Christmas’ for whatever celebrations they have.
Now, I don’t have a problem with them celebrating an essentially pagan festival. I just believe that they are being dishonest when they say celebrate the mass of Christ (Christmas). Since they don’t believe in him, it’s like going to a birthday party and ignoring the birthday boy.
This dishonesty in faith is something I have seen all my life. I was born into a Hindu family. (By that, I mean that, at the time of my birth, my parents professed to be Hindus – my mum has since become Christian.) But, living in a European country, we always ‘celebrated’ Christmas. As a child, what did this mean? It meant the Christmas tree, lights, decorations, presents under the tree, Father Christmas, crackers, Roast Turkey and so on. And yes, as a child, this all sounds great. But as I became older, I became less enamoured by these festivities.
I knew all about the Christmas story, about God and Jesus and the (three) wise men. It was a nice story but I couldn’t see what was so special about Christmas that warranted the decorations and the presents and turkey. I became even more disillusioned when I learnt that the party atmosphere of Christmas actually pre-dates the birth of Christ from a Roman festival called Saturnalia and a Celtic festival called Yule. The general messages of peace on earth and goodwill towards men seemed like an all-year-round theme.
It was only when I became a Christian and understood why God came to Earth as a human baby that I realised why we celebrate Christmas. It took me thirty years to figure out that Christmas meant nothing without Christ. (This was my experience.) I also realised that one cannot celebrate a festival called ‘Christmas’ without celebrating Christ and one can’t celebrate Christ without believing in him.
But this post is about more than the true meaning of Christmas. It is about understanding the reason why we do certain things in the name of faith. Coming from a Hindu background, I realise that many professing Hindus are in fact cultural Hindus. They do the rituals because they have always been done, but they don’t know why they are doing it. Cultural religion is not unique to Hinduism. I would suggest that the atheists of Twitter I debated with this week were cultural Christians. They didn’t believe in the theology but, for whatever reason, they found some form of comfort in the practice, which is why they kicked up a fuss when I suggested that they should call their festivities something else.