“Keep Christ in Christmas!” is the familiar refrain of Christians who fear the secularization of the holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, their savior.
But in America, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas.
According to a recent poll by the Christian group LifeWay Research, “A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians.”
Do you need to be Christian to celebrate Christmas? What is Christmas all about?
“Is Christmas Christian?” I could be snarky and answer “Is the Pope Catholic?”—of course Christmas is Christian. But, instead I’ll share my own experience as a way of explaining how I think everyone who wants to celebrate Christmas in some way or other should do so.
This is how Christmas saved my Christianity.
I was a nominal Episcopalian growing up (emphasis on the nominal part), but I have a handful of fond memories from my childhood, such as Midnight Mass, a beautiful ceramic nativity set, and all the Christmas carols I’d hear throughout December. Each year Christmas reminded me that I was a Christian.
After I grew up and moved out on my own, my minimal faith practice all but evaporated. I hardly thought about God and I stopped going to church altogether, but I still celebrated Christmas. I decorated my humble one bedroom apartment, I played Christmas music on my stereo, and every Christmas Eve I watched Midnight Mass from the Vatican.
For nine years, Christmas was the one thread connecting me to my latent Christianity. Then I met Julia. Our first Christmas together, she invited me to Midnight Mass at her Catholic parish. Within a month, I was attending an Episcopal Parish every Sunday—for the first time in my life.
Ten years later, I’m enrolled in RCIA and will be joining the Catholic Church at Easter. Looking back, I realize that Christmas was my lifeline at the lowest point in my faith journey.
St Paul wrote “I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1st Corinthians 9:22b-23, NRSV) Maybe those of us who are Christians need to let Christmas be “all things to all people” as well. Let’s share our blessings.