Most of my life has been spent looking at Christmas as a participant in the faith that chiefly celebrates it. As a result, I never really thought much about how I celebrated it, or even why I celebrated it. Despite the religious roots of the holiday, I always thought of it more as a family tradition than anything else. This is perhaps why my views haven’t changed much from when I was a Christian to now. Outside of a distaste for Christmas music and Christmas TV movies, I don’t mind the holiday all that much.
But it can be different for other people.
Between the so-called “War on Christmas” to demanding recognition of some non-Christian celebrations on Christmas, there is a panoply of varied perspectives on the holiday. Some people want to ignore it exists, others want to change public perception to whatever they have. It’s as if all of these views are mutually exclusive, and Christmas is an excuse to dig up the hatchet that was buried last year.
Nobody has to celebrate a holiday for the same reasons as other people. When I was in college, I did my best to observe other holidays for other people. I saw it as an excuse to celebrate common humanity with people rather than look down on festivities because they didn’t match with my then-religious views. As I learned more about other cultures, I realized that it doesn’t take much to let people know you care. And really, who wants to say no to a party?
This is what informs my own perspective on Christmas.
While the cultures that spawn celebrations are different, it’s still a very human thing to do. We’re social animals, we sometimes form family groups, and we share traditions. Those traditions can change and develop over time. People do things today for many different reasons than they nominally did fifty, a hundred, or even a thousand years ago. The only constant is that people celebrate them in however manner they can manage.
Well, except for one other small thing. During this time of year, we will have a winter solstice. Even in ancient times, this was a big deal for people. For reasons unknown, people have been watching the changing skies for about as long as they’ve been walking upright, managing fire, and using sounds to convey ideas. Before we developed clocks and calendars, people noticed that all days were not equal. And when the day was at its shortest, colder weather was usually around the corner. To someone who couldn’t explain disease, crop failures, or why the weather got cold, this was a big deal.
Regardless of when we observe the shortest day of the year, the point is that we all do it in some manner. It’s the ending of a year, a time for change, or a signal of things to come. This can be a period for reflection, of recognizing the things we still have after a tumultuous time. Or it can be a time of looking forward to new and better things, remembering that after the shortest day of the year, the days will get longer again. No person needs a society, culture, or deep philosophical understanding of the universe to recognize the inexorable changes of the seasons and time itself. Everyone can share this regardless of language, race, or creed.
Sometimes, this time of year we can forget this.
It would be nice if more people remembered that we’re all just struggling to live on a giant rock hurling through space. Yes, we can forget it for most of the year, but life on Earth follows a cyclical pattern around the Sun. Regardless of how anyone celebrates it, I think I can be fine with anything that chooses to recognize our common humanity rather than excludes people from it. What this means is that Christmas cheer is for everyone, not just a select few. A similar thing goes for every other holiday this season. Raise a glass, have a cookie, and do something nice for yourself and others.
Excluding yourself from everyone else just means you’re going to miss one hell of a party.