December 24, 2018

If Christmas Has Nothing to Do With Jesus...

Christmas presents around tree

Ready for what is probably a stupid question? Here goes...

If Christmas has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus, why does it seem like relatively few Jews and Muslims celebrate it?
Wait a second! Who says Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus? Doesn't the name itself derive from "Christ-mass?" How can that not have anything to do with Jesus? The claim that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus is not one that I would make, but it is one that I regularly hear from atheists who seem to feel like they need to defend their desire to celebrate Christmas. Personally, I don't think they need to defend this at all, but that's another post.

Atheists are correct to argue that Christmas can be (and often is) celebrated in an entirely secular manner. Christians have been fairly successful in secularizing Christmas, and there is some evidence that increasing numbers of people who celebrate Christmas are doing so in secular ways. I don't think any of this is in dispute. My question is why we don't see more people from other religious traditions celebrating Christmas if it really has nothing to do with Jesus.

Maybe I am completely wrong about what I said above and most Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christian religious believers do celebrate Christmas. Just because none of those I've known have celebrated Christmas doesn't necessarily mean that most don't. Perhaps my limited sample is atypical. Most of the people I'm thinking of were religious. That is, the Jews I am thinking of were religious Jews, and the Muslims I am thinking of were religious Muslims. Maybe they didn't celebrate because they had other traditions they preferred.

I think that some of my confusion here probably derives from the fact that I've never quite understood the difference between celebrating a holiday and observing a holiday. For example, I have no idea what the following sentence means:

My family observes Christmas, but we don't celebrate it.
What does that mean? What does your family do to "observe" Christmas that is different from what those who celebrate it do? Does observing Christmas entail something more than being aware that it is Christmas? And if so, what?

It is certainly possible to celebrate Christmas without any religious trappings; however, it seems to me that if you put up a tree or other Christmas decorations, exchange gifts, and so on, you are celebrating Christmas. Celebrating Christmas without any religion is still celebrating Christmas. And while I don't do any of these things, I am certainly aware that it is Christmas. Does that mean that I am observing it even though I don't usually do anything different than I would any other day?

I'm sure opinions on this will differ, but my guess is that we don't see more Jews, Muslims, etc. celebrating Christmas because they recognize that it has something to do with Jesus. At least, I think it has something to do with Jesus. That does not mean that it cannot be celebrated, observed, or whatever else without incorporating Jesus in any way. It just means that I'm not comfortable claiming that it has nothing at all to do with Jesus. I think it is failry obvious that it has something to do with Jesus for some people, and I suspect this may have something to do with why some people do not celebrate it.