With growing diversity in Britain, should we perhaps pay a little more weight to other holidays around the winter season?
Bodhi Day, Pancha Ganapati, Hannukkah, Human Rights Day, Kwanzaa, to name but a few. What’s missing from this list? Of course, it was on the tip of your tongue: Christmas. What all of these festivals have in common is that they take place in the festive period. What they don’t share is the recognition they are given in Britain.
You would be forgiven for not having heard of most of them, whether they be religious or secular. But with growing diversity in Britain, should we be paying more attention to them? It’s common knowledge that most people in Britain celebrate Christmas whether they're religious or not. Generally, many people also accept that it is not fundamentally necessary to hold a religious belief to enjoy Christmas, or to have it benefit you and those around you.
To most of us Christmas is about spending time with those we love, if we are lucky enough, and showing that love somewhat materialistically by exchanging sloppily wrapped gifts. It’s enjoyed by the majority, but there are growing worries for those people who don’t have the same experience. Those without the personal connections or the means to appreciate Christmas in the same way that many of us do can feel completely ostracized by the incessant bombardment of advertisements and festive rhetoric.
However, in a nation as globalised as our own, it isn’t just the “unlucky” who can feel left out at this time of year. What if one of the aforementioned festivals is more important to you? Or is even just as close to your heart and tradition? According to the 2011 Census, there are almost 40 million Christians in the UK, nearly 3 million Muslims, around 16 million with no religion and a large percentage of those with other religious beliefs. The question has to be asked: if Christmas is no longer a purely religious festival in the UK, why must it preside over all others? Although it is such an important event on our calendar, and rightfully so, why does it have to be the only one around this time?
The advertisers play a pretty big role in what is essentially now a game to a lot of people: ingest some of the sparkly stuff you see on the telly, and, at an expense you most likely can’t afford, enjoy it, in the name of Christmas! If bringing people together through festivities really is as an important a value as it is professed to be, what’s the good in restricting it to one day? Don’t get me wrong here, I am not doubting the legitimacy of Christmas as a festival, nor saying it can’t be one of the happiest times of the year. Some of my fondest memories have been made at this time of year – the cliché childhood nativity, the unavoidable overindulgence, Christmas Eve down the pub, the list goes on... Instead, what I am saying is, it’s not logical or necessarily fair to neglect other festivals at this time of year in the current climate.
It wouldn’t exactly take much money to celebrate something like Human Rights Day on a larger scale, but that addresses one of the most important factors here – money. Although Christmas holds indispensable religious or moral value to a great deal of people, there’s no denying how commercial it’s become. To many businesses, it’s little more than an economic tool to exploit consumers. This is quite a contradiction, since one of the key messages of Christmas is remembering our humble roots and acting selflessly.
To romanticise – I’d propose that paying more attention to other festivals at this time of year would not only be more inclusive but would actually bring us closer to the true values of Christmas and re-sanctify the true meaning of it. If the retail boom wasn’t so concentrated on one specific event, and the values of the festival were reasserted in the context of other cultural principles, the empire of tradition which is so characteristic of this nation would be more loving and embracing.
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