Some facts from the Pew Research Center
99 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas (this number has remained consistent since 2013)
71 percent of Americans claim affiliation with a Christian denomination
23 percent of Americans claim no affiliation with a religious body
6 percent of Americans claim affiliation with a non-Christian faith
There are a lot of people celebrating Christmas for no religious reason. Jesus may not always be the reason for the season.
46 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas primarily as a religious holiday
9 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as both a religious and cultural holiday
36 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday
There are a lot of Christians celebrating Christmas as a cultural holiday.
As long as there has been a Christmas, the cultural and religious versions have been closely linked.
In its early days, the religious Christmas was mixed with the Roman festival of Saturnalia.
During the Middle Ages, Christmas holidays were celebrated by the upper classes with feasts, singing, and gift giving
During the Reformation, Protestants brought more religion to the event, focusing on the Christ Child as the gift-bearer. But it also brought discord. Puritans considered Christmas to be an invention of the Catholic church, and in many areas forbid the celebration of Christmas at all.
In the 1800s writers such as Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore created the ideal image of the Christmas: A family holiday, full of generosity, good food, and goodwill. They gave us an image of presents under the Christmas tree, families attending church together, wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Christmas took on a new economic importance.
Christmas has never been a solely religious time. It’s always been mixed with cultural aspects.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t celebrate it as a religious holiday. We do. We observe Advent, we celebrate Christmas Day, we celebrate the Christmas season leading up to the arrival of the Three Kings. We celebrate it as a time when God gave the greatest gift of all: the gift of God’s child in human form.
It also doesn’t mean that as Christians we can’t enjoy the cultural aspects of Christmas. Santa Claus can have a place in family traditions. We can enjoy goofy Christmas songs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. We can decorate our Christmas trees. We can buy gifts.
A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a wonderful example of the cultural and religious Christmas existing together. We can remember the Christmas story as lovingly told by Linus, while celebrating friendship in decorating a pitiful Christmas tree and celebrating its new-found beauty.
Christmas is not over. We are approaching the end of the 12-days of Christmas. This Sunday, January 7, we will observe Epiphany Sunday and celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men at the manger.
This Sunday also brings to a close our Magi Project, which collects food to stock the shelves of food pantries in New Castle County. I hope this continuing project, which has brought in thousands of cans of food over the past few years, is culturally religious.
- Ann Warner