Tuesday, December 15, 2009

American or Religious Holidays?

It's December, and we are now delving into our winter holiday celebrations.

Some of you may be celebrating Hanukkah, which began a couple of days ago. Others may be happily anticipating Christmas at the end of the month. The Islamic New Year begins later this week.

In the United States of America (where I reside), we ascribe to a very wide variety of religions. After all, the Pilgrims came to America specifically to have the right of religious freedom. (Whether they respected the religious or other freedoms of the Indians who already lived here upon their arrival is another matter, and I won't insufficiently address it in a cursory manner here.) There are so many religions in the USofA that I won't even pretend to be familiar with most of them.

And yet, in this religion-obsessed nation, the most prominent holiday figure in the December media is Santa Claus, who arguably relates to no one particular religion, or several. Some people believe that Santa Claus is really the Christian Saint Nick. Others believe that he's a carry-over from pre-Christian paganism. Still others make it a point to ignore Santa Claus because he does not fall into their belief systems. But the mainstream representation of Santa Claus is that he's just a harmless, jolly old white guy with a sizeable stomach and a fluffy white beard. He brings presents to children and (if you watch Lifetime movies) love to hopelessly romantic single folk.

Personally, I value my Americanism just as much as my religious identification. So I have no qualms about the co-existence of this Jolly Santa Claus figure and the celebration of my own (non-Christian) religion. I don't want my children to have to suffer the indignity of not getting presents from Santa Claus in a society that reinforces his existence each December. I don't want them to assume they're on an oft-mentioned "naughty list" because their parents don't happen to be Christian. Honestly, even I don't want to have to change the station when my favorite Christmas song plays on the radio. I would rather sing along.

To me, not celebrating a secular Christmas feels un-American because I live in a consumerist culture, and Santa is all about the gift-related part of the holiday season. I would never go to Mass (unless it was to accompany/support a Christian/Catholic relative or friend). I would never put a wreath on my door (because I know it represents the crown of thorns that Christ was forced to wear on the crucifix.) And I would never, ever display a manger on my front lawn. But I look forward to seeing who might wander under some mistletoe, and I'll make sure that Santa doesn't forget my children on December 25th.

What's your opinion on secular and/or religious celebrations of winter holidays in the USA?

No comments:

Post a Comment