It begins, as most celebrations do, with the act of informing everyone at arm’s length that it is almost here. We then count the days that lead to it—excitedly and religiously—and there is almost a sense of collective relief as we get to cross off another day on our calendars. Then there are the images that flock our homes and the public transport system: flashes of red and green, trees clad in strings of light, oversized stockings hanging onto stair railings, and perhaps most moving (to say the least) and unique to our times, a bearded, portly Caucasian man handing out presents while enjoying a bottle of soda.
One might ask, what exactly is it that is celebrated during Christmas? Is it really about the Savior of the world? Or is it simply another opportunity for businesses to cash in, and an excuse for everyone to ask relatives for gifts?
Such questions may prove to be pedantic, however, upon the arrival of December 25th, as people of various faiths and of no faith celebrate Christmas as well. It can be said that centuries of secularization and commercialism have made Christmas the holiday it is today: inclusive, sales-inducing, and arguably the most widely celebrated. It is, in many ways, a global tradition crossing both cultural and religious borders that has inspired diversity in both shopping mall lines and Christian churches.
Patrick (IV, MGT), a baptized Catholic who follows a secular lifestyle, says, “Christmas to me is just a regular holiday like any other, only with a lot of gift-giving involved.” He and his family celebrate the 25th of December in perhaps the most conventional way. “We have a very simple family gathering, we visit relatives, and we have wonderful meals together.”
But as he goes on to explain, “Christmas is more of a reminder to spend time with loved ones once in a while, especially those you don’t see very often.”
A baptized Christian who has long been subscribed to reformed Baptist views and practices, Camila* (IV, AEI-LGL) does not believe that Christ was born on December 25—but there is something special, she reflects, about this time of the year.
“I think it is abstract as to why it feels more special to be with your family during this season. I guess it feels extra special because there is a deeper sense of love that is shown through different efforts like family members being hardworking to save money just to be with their loved ones, gift giving, sharing food, doing charity work, and other similar stuff.”
Asked about how she thinks the idea of faith or religion factors into secular Christmas celebrations, Camila explains that if seculars are able to find meaning in and genuinely experience joy through family gatherings during this special time of the year, “then religion must not matter because the center of celebration is the family get together and not really Christ’s birth.”
Christine (V, PSY-MGT) believes that her family celebrates Christmas ‘the Filipino way.’ “We wait up for Noche Buena and start eating at exactly 12 midnight,” she recounts. “We greet each other ‘Merry Christmas’ and not ‘Happy Holidays,’ and that’s no big deal. For me, celebrating Christmas has been instilled in us as Filipinos, and not necessarily as devout Catholics or Christians.”
There are seculars who do not celebrate Christmas—these are people who, while not necessarily at the forefront of quarter-year long festivities—remain to be very much respectful of the fact that Christmas is an important affair for majority of the populace.
Erika* (IV, AEF-BSA) and her Buddhist family do not see Christmas as a day that is any different from other days, but understand the irrefutable significance it holds for people that are, in a lot of ways, significant in their lives. “It’s a normal day for us, but it’s a holiday for our workers so we also give earlier closing time on Dec 24 afternoon, and December 25 is a non-working holiday for them and us.”
Like Erika, Nicole (II, LIM-BSA), does not celebrate Christmas at all, but nevertheless considers it as a time to get together with her family. “Our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. We think it’s just a waste of time and money, and it’s just a capitalistic holiday that businesses use to cash in,” she says, when asked of what Christmas meant to her.
“We don’t even notice it’s Christmas,” she continues. “I just go abroad with my family, and before we know it, it’s already December 28th. We really don’t think about it at all.”
Christmas may be a historically religious holiday, and it may mean different things for different people, but what truly matters is that it can bring people of all faiths—or none at all—together with their loved ones and families.
Love, giving, reconciliation, and family. These are words often uttered as responses to the impossible question, what is the true meaning of Christmas? While these may or may not have been reduced to mere catchphrases so casually thrown around in straight-to-DVD Christmas movies and greeting cards, they are, fundamentally, truths that epitomize the spirit of the holiday season for a lot of people—Christians and non-Christians alike.