Christmas as a Non-Christian

Published

Credit: Rhiannon Doherty

Julia Hegele
Theatre Editor

Christmas is, without question, the most wonderful time of the year. Lights are twinkling, presents are being wrapped, insane amounts of food and drink are being consumed in the name of festivity – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? However some of the most avid Christmas revelers, myself included, are not members of the Christian faith. Those of us born outside Christianity celebrating Christmas fit an ever growing population that, despite the welcoming aura of freshly baked cookies and glittering trees, are still finding our niche in the run-up to the most iconic holiday of the year.

I was born in a household that observed both Jewish and Christian traditions and immediately gravitated towards the former. My family then split into agnosticism and atheism, leaving me as the only practicing Jew in the mix. However when December rolled around in our house of non-Christian identities, we would bundle up with a Michael Buble CD and head out to find our perfect tree. My sister and I would fight over the ideal sizing, how many branches we could deck with our personal favorite ornaments, and then spend the rest of the day stringing cranberries while my mom battled with the ever-tangled lights and cups of coco cooled in front of us. It wasn’t a question – our Decembers were dictated by the smell of peppermint and the constant warmth of the tree’s lights. We would sing hymns and attend services in our city’s cathedral, despite being a foursome of utterly different beliefs. Like anthropologists, we would study the beautiful traditions of a Catholic mass, drive around in the twilight to look at our neighbours’ lights, and set out milk and cookies for Santa before curling up in our beds after reading ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The dissonance between my non-Christian life and my month long sojourn into Yuletide came only when I left my home. For years I upheld the traditions of Christmas with more fervour than Hanukkah, an idea lost on countless numbers of inquisitive friends and classmates. Those who knew I had a Christmas tree wouldn’t understand why I felt it wrong that we only sang carols in choir. “You celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah don’t you? Just be thankful for the presents!” they quipped. For years this pressure made me think I had to choose: reject a holiday tied to countless beautiful memories or discount my worth as a Jew. However after growing in my religion and leaving home for university I can see that, after growing up in such a multi-faith environment, Christmas to me has never really signified the birth of Christ. While of course I understand and appreciate Christmas’ inherent meaning, the holiday became for my family an expression of love, magic, and connection and will always mean that for me. And my family’s case is far from unique.

According to Pew Research Center, 87 per cent of my fellow non-Christian Americans celebrate Christmas, regarding it as more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. It may seem slightly parasitic, reaping the benefits of a holiday while dodging the responsibilities of church visits or inherent sin. But let’s be real, Christmas has evolved out of the control of one denomination. From the end of October, the holiday is everywhere, from store windows to radio waves. Like it or not, Christmas has become a culture and is therefore public domain for those of us who can’t avoid its saturation.

In saying that, it’s fair to clarify that I wouldn’t change the impact Christmas has had on my life for anything. I love the squeals of my cousins as they open their stockings, how the snow falls over twinkling lights, the way It’s a Wonderful Life will forever make me bawl like a baby no matter how many times I watch it. In this homestretch to the end of term all that’s on my mind is my glittering tree back home in Colorado, the smell of baking cookies, and the warmth of our little house. Christmas is a reason for seeing family, for giving gifts to loved ones, and for reflecting on a year well spent: sentiments that members of any faith should be proud of express.