Finally – tis’ the season for baggy-eyed students cramming for exams, boozy hot chocolate, and ‘conveniently’ broken radiators. You can always tell when St Andrews holiday season has arrived, when instead of the weather app telling you if it's warm or cold it simply says “wind”. The lights are hung up all around town, the shops and bars hang pine garlands and baubles in their store-front windows. The holiday season symbolises the full bloom of the winter season, and for much of this town, it symbolises a break from the chaos of school work on the horizon. Being a majority Christian country and town, St Andrews undoubtedly widely celebrates in both religious and cultural means, the holiday of Christmas. So while many students who belong to the Christian faith will prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, some St Andrews students won’t; so where does that leave them?
While the town of St Andrews may not have the cultural and ethnic diversity of a big city, there is without a doubt a wide variation of celebrations and traditions practiced individually in this soon-to-be vacant town. Even then the majority of the outward celebration revolves around Christmas; the parties that occur, the themed buildings, the shooting star lights and Santa costumes are all little reminders of which religion dominates the holiday arena. On the 25th of December, the holiday is usually observed by attending church services or participating in acts of service, or for the more musically talented among the population, caroling. For some this can often seem exclusionary, it’s hard to acclimatise to the jolly old spirit of the town when you don’t relate to the holiday at all. For those among us whose childhoods consisted of other religious celebrations, they may not feel the nostalgia many might get when seeing the colorful twinkling bulbs of decorated trees next to hung-up stockings. So while some may argue that you can’t celebrate a religious holiday if you don’t practice the religion, I would argue that it’s positively grinch-like to gatekeep Christmas.
In the twenty-first century, Christmas (among other holidays) has become a collective holiday. Companies use the specific motifs of Christmas to peddle their products, everything from department store decorations to the Christmas markets of Edinburgh and London. It’s truly brilliant, the modern Christian church has formulated a holiday that panders to the majority of the Western (if not international) population, that not only promotes the religion but also has become profitable. Considering that it’s become commodified to the extent that it has, I believe that everyone, no matter their beliefs, should be able to celebrate the holiday to whichever extent they would like. That’s not to say that there is any issue with people wanting to celebrate the holiday with specific attention to the purely holy aspects of the holiday, however, the reality is that many Christians prefer to celebrate the purely modern and consumerized aspects of Christmas, such as gift-giving and drinking as much eggnog as humanly possible.
There is no “one version” of the religious holiday, there are many variations of the Christmas holiday, from Las Posadas to the perfectly named Krampusnacht, Christians around the world have managed to make each of these celebrations unique. Many people today view the holiday as a celebration of the Winter Solstice, as the ancient Romans once did, rather than any celebration of a religious figure. Considering each version of the holiday is different, how could a non-Christian celebrating it possibly be problematic? In the twenty-first century, Christmas has evidently become a cultural holiday rather than a religious one. Coca- Cola practically shaped the big-bald-bearded Santa dressed in red in an effort to sell more in the holiday season. Yet, you don’t see seasonal Pepsi bottles decorated with little Menorahs and dreidels featuring a Maccabe general as its mascot. That’s not to say I think that Judaism should be commercialized further, in fact, I am completely satisfied with my eight whole days of latkes, jelly donuts, and gifts galore. But I have to admit that I do love celebrating the Christmas holiday as well. Faith is personal – Home Alone 2 is not.
Truthfully, I don’t believe you can gatekeep any popularised religious holidays – as long as you’re being respectful, anyone can celebrate. A key facet of popularised holidays is the notion of spreading awareness of the religion’s history and traditions, in an attempt to raise awareness or following. Even for non-christian winter holidays, such as Channukah, Kwanzaa, the Pagan Yule, Pancha Ganapati, or my personal favorite: Sol Invictus (the satanist celebration of the pursuit of knowledge and Enlightenment values); while the methods of observation and origins of the holiday may differ, the purposes are all the same – community, family and giving. The holiday spirit is about gathering to celebrate the end of the year with those we care about (Rudolph the Reindeer included). So go on home, bake gingerbread cookies that will end up looking like deformed hamsters, knowing that no matter your faith, without judgment or offense, you too can revel in the Christmas spirit.
Illustration: Bethany Morton