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Can you Celebrate Christmas without being a Christian?

Christmas tree

Christmas is an incredibly special time of year. Yes, this year it may be looking a little (or a lot) different than it has in previous years, but that doesn't prevent it from being any less special. Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday, yet not everyone that celebrates Christmas is a Christian. I was Christened about six months after I was born and went to a Church of England primary school, but don't really see myself as a Christian. In this festive blog post, I want to take a look at whether it can be seen as acceptable to celebrate Christmas if you are not a Christian.

Let's start by taking a look at why we even celebrate Christmas in the first place. We celebrate Christmas because it is when Jesus Christ was born (but whether this actually happened on the 25th of December is constantly up for debate). I'm sure many of us who went to a Church of England school or who have ever gone to Church around Christmas time are aware of the story of the birth of Christ and how Mary was the virgin mother and he was the son of God, despite Mary being with Joseph (not going to lie, this is starting to sound like a Jeremy Kyle episode). Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem and were trying to find a place to stay, which ended up being in a barn and where, eventually, Mary gave birth to Jesus. The Wise Men had to travel from where they were tending to their flocks to give presents to Jesus (after being made aware of his birth by the Angel Gabriel) and did this by following a star. This is meant to be the real reason why we celebrate Christmas. But, let's be honest, how many of you reading this can honestly put your hand up and say you celebrate Christmas to celebrate the birth of Christ and not to just give/receive presents and eat all the food available to you? I can genuinely say that I am the latter when it comes to this.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I have ever celebrated Christmas in the way that it was originally intended to be celebrated. When I was younger we used to go to church on Christmas Eve, but that's about as far as it goes in terms of making it a religious celebration. My main Christmas traditions involved leaving out some whisky and a mince pie for Santa; decorating the house with a Christmas tree (or two... actually, make that three), lights, Christmas displays, and general Christmas decorations; unwrapping my presents on Christmas Day and creating a general mess of toys and wrapping paper all in one big pile (anyone else's Mum not let you open any presents until she'd got the bin bag out, or was it just mine?); stuffing my face with all the food imaginable; and spending time with friends and family. I don't think Jesus' name was ever mentioned once during Christmas and I don't think I can ever imagine it being mentioned. But, nowadays, is this a bad thing?

How many of you would say that, based on my description above, your Christmas' were/are pretty similar to mine? I think that now we're becoming somewhat of a less religious society (at least, from where I'm standing, in terms of Christianity), Christmas is less about the religious aspect and is more about celebrating the end of the year by celebrating with your family, friends and work colleagues by drinking loads of booze, eating loads of food and having to re-do secret Santa over and over again because everyone ends up telling each other who they've got and trying to swap.

I guess part of the reason why a lot of us don't celebrate Christmas in the way that it was initially intended to be celebrated is in line with the drop in attendance at church. According to reports, church attendance has dropped between fifteen and twenty percent since 2009 and the number of people regularly attending church (excluding Christmas and Easter) has come down to 1.11 million people, with twenty percent of these people aged under eighteen and thirty-three percent being over the age of seventy. In 2019, Christmas church attendance had dropped down by 220,000 to 2.33 million people and only thirty-four percent of these people had received communion (Church Times). These numbers show that nowadays, fewer people are going to church, whereas in years gone by it used to be a weekly occurrence where everyone in the neighbourhood would go to their local church. Nowadays, hardly anyone goes to church on a weekly (or even regular) basis and the biggest attendance churches probably see is during Christmas and Easter services, which, even then, is still nowhere near the same amount they used to see. This, in some ways, makes me feel a little sad. However, as time goes by, religion is becoming less prominent in society and while I think it will always be here (at least, in my lifetime), I think it will start to become even less of a reason to celebrate things (such as Christmas and Easter) and these holidays will be more family and friendship focused.

I think that, by now, we can all agree that Christmas is not celebrated in the same way it used to be. I can only speak on my own experience of celebrating Christmas and have no real idea of how it used to be celebrated. I guess we're all just moving with the times and this move with the times shows that we're moving further away from religion (and have been for some time now) and moving more towards a time where religious celebrations are becoming more focused on family, friends, and commercialisation. With this move in mind, I think it's completely okay for us to be celebrating Christmas without necessarily taking much notice of the religious aspect of it. While I believe that it shouldn't just be a focus on Santa and presents, I think this focus on family and friendship and coming together after whatever the year has thrown at us (and believe me, after this year, we all need to come together more than we have ever needed to come together before) is particularly important.

But I give this question to you. Is it acceptable for us to celebrate Christmas without much (or any) consideration of the religious aspect? Or do we need to start paying more attention to the religious side?

Love Beth xx

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