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Devil's Advocate: Should Non-Christians Celebrate Christian Holidays?




YES — JASMIN SYKES


They say pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but I feel my Catholicism (albeit staunchly agnostic) affords me a superior argumentative position here. Coming from a Christian background, I am far from offended by non-believers enjoying their chocolate Easter eggs, or kissing under the Christmas mistletoe. 


The Christian holidays that punctuate our secular calendar offer important points of collective celebration. They provide a rare sense of unity in an increasingly polarised and pugnacious world; times to leave the stresses and rigours of everyday life behind, and reflect and focus on one another. Given Jesus’ emphasis on outreach and love, it is certainly no Christian’s place to deny anyone the small pockets of hope and joy that these celebrations bring.


Some will probably contest that there is no reason why, in this day and age, our seasonal holidays cannot be purely secular; last year’s coronation, for instance, was a wonderful example of non-religious collective celebration. But, as the slew of controversy around contemporary monarchy those celebrations highlighted, there is little in our secular society to unite us. Today, ‘culture’ is a theatre of conflict, not collective spirit; an arena of war, rather than peace.


On the other hand, the ideals that holidays like Easter capture are, at essence, universal ones. They may come in Christian garb, but the notions of new life, forgiveness, suffering, reconciliation, and love are all profoundly human. At heart, there is little in Christian morality that a non-Christian cannot, and should not, get behind — even absent of religious belief. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is as good an ethos for an atheistic society, as a Christian one. It is important that our collective celebrations retain something sacred and meaningful about them, even if only in spirit; rather than — as so much else in our contemporary lives — being reduced to the secular, drab, and mundane.


Moreover, to deny non-Christians the right to celebrate Christian holidays is to deny the extent to which Christianity has shaped the morality and mindset of us all — not only believers. Christianity is no mere set of religious doctrines; it is as much a cultural and historical movement as a spiritual one. Its dramas have produced earthquakes in our collective histories: the wars that shaped national borders, the ethics written into our constitutions and legal notions of justice, our conceptions of music, art and literature, have all played out under the banner of the Lamb. In many respects, all of us — particularly in the west — are inheritors and carriers of the Christian legacy; whether we know (or like) it, or not. Ultimately, there is little un-Christian about non-Christians.


Of course, I am aware that Christian holidays are becoming increasingly commercialised. But for the most part, I think, non-Christians do regard Easter and Christmas celebrations as genuinely special times. We fly halfway across the world to be with family; check-in with old friends; and feel moved by a spirit of generosity to share with others. In fact, it is arguably the non-Christian celebration of these events which keeps them from extinction in an increasingly secular world, otherwise hostile to any notion of magic and mystery. The religious are a dying breed; it is non-believers who keep these celebrations alive.


So, to the non-Christians among you, I urge you feel no guilt for gorging on Easter chocolates, even absent 40 days and nights fasting in Lent. Christ didn’t submit to temptation in the desert — but then again, he didn’t have Cadbury’s mini-eggs to contend with.


NO — SUMMER KING


It’s hard not to love many of the stereotypical tenants and traditions of the holidays of the Christian faith: a branch that encourages kissing, cool palms, reindeer, and a slay sleigh, jolly old Santa, and a large bunny. However, for the many religious followers of this faith, the cultural and historical roots, and meaning behind their beliefs are crucial to the sanctity of their relationship with God. While staunchly arguing for secular religious celebrations can toe the line of unreasonable, many opt out of celebrating Christian holidays to avoid being perceived as insensitive or disrespectful.

 

Unfortunately, Christian holidays have become commercialised to such an extent that their religious significance has been devalued for those who believe. For instance, those of us who have witnessed the horror that is the worldwide, fear-inducing, annual celebration of Santacon, will clearly see a drunken perversion of what is supposed to be a most holy commemoration of the birth of Jesus. There is simply no way that the “true meaning of Christmas” is thousands of obscenely intoxicated people pub-crawling (often quite literally crawling) through the streets of innocent cities in red and white fur trimmed fat suits, with sweat filled Caps of liberty.

 

In commodifying or popularising Christianity over other religions — granting “Christmas breaks” and the “Easter Holiday” — as a society we unfairly prioritise the Christian faith. Instead of privileging one religion and its holidays over others, we should strive to promote inclusive approaches towards the diverse range of holidays and traditions that exist. While I’m not arguing for a more inclusive Santacon (God, let it end) — as the inclusion of a drunk-slutty-Chanukah-Fairy probably wouldn’t solve the issue at hand — maybe corporations, and places of work and study, should attempt to showcase and highlight a plethora of seasonal religious celebrations rather than one alone.

 

For many, celebrating a religious holiday outside of one’s own may feel deeply inauthentic — a bit like encroaching on sacred ground for the “fun of it”. Those belonging to a non-Christian religion with its own beliefs should embrace the traditions and commemorations that accompany it, helping to contribute to a social understanding and awareness of the world's diverse religious systems. 


Moreover, there exists something of a double standard in the public acceptance of non-Christians celebrating Christmas or Easter — especially when most revellers are entirely uneducated as to the Christian background and context. Most likely, cultural appropriation would be invoked if Christians began callously celebrating the non-Christian holidays of other faiths. For example, I doubt the “coquetteification” or “Lana-del-Ra-fication” of the crucifix, popular amongst the non-pious, would translate well if it concerned the central symbol of another religion — there seems something rather problematic about Kippahs becoming the new ‘it’ hat.

 

Given the prevalence of non-Christians celebrating Christian holidays, it’s difficult, from a pragmatic standpoint, to imagine them being prohibited from doing so. What’s important, however, is that non-Christians approach holidays of the Christian faith with respect and understanding. It’s not exactly sinful to join in on a harmless game of Easter Egg hunting. Just maybe don’t walk around all day with an ashen dot on your forehead if you don’t celebrate lent: it’s not grunge or edgy…it’s giving disrespectful chimney sweep.


Illustration by: Lauren McAndrew


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