The Christmas holiday is a festive time, full of joy and celebration for Christians around the world, but for the secular population, it’s an awkward period during the year. There needs to be room for a secular Christmas as well. While Christians attend Mass, retell the story of Jesus’s birth, and set their Nativity figurines for all to see, those who are secular, mixed-faith, or from a different religion entirely must rely on their own traditions and customs to keep the holiday cheer alive.
Every household celebrates Christmas (if at all) differently, so it’s important to note that, although religion might be the foundation of the holiday, Jesus is not always the reason for the season. Not to mention, the way Christmas is often celebrated tends to be more cultural and commercial than religious.
In this article, I will be discussing a few ways to celebrate a secular Christmas.
One of the long-standing traditions of Christmas has been to wrap and exchange gifts, and that custom doesn’t need to be forgotten when celebrating a secular Christmas. The act of giving gifts to loved ones is not inherently religious at all. Gifts are just little (or big) tokens of appreciation for partnerships that have lasted the test of time, or as a sign of respect. There’s nothing that puts a smile on our face like a stuffed-to-the-brim stocking with little trinkets or a neatly wrapped gift box housing a wishlist favourite we’ve had our eye on.
The Christmas season owns an entire line of festive foods. Think roast turkey, chocolate yule logs, gingerbread, hot chocolate, mince pies, mulled wine, and fruitcake! But, like gift-giving, food is not a Christian tradition. Anyone can cook and feast!
Once again, preparing food holds no religious denomination; celebrating this time of year with homemade meals is a secular activity. It’s important to note how food can bridge the distance between two cultures: Jewish people, who celebrate Hanukkah, oftentimes go to Chinese eateries, since it’s the only type of establishment conveniently open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! How’s that for a secular Christmas meal?
- 3 Traditional Irish Christmas Recipes – Babylon
- 5 Christmas dinner ideas if you’re vegan or vegetarian
Partaking in Family Traditions
This year family gatherings have been put on hold due to the pandemic; it’s a massive change for individuals that flock to their childhood homes to celebrate this cultural holiday alongside their families. Although this year family members might not come over to celebrate, that does not mean that family traditions need go out the door!
One may not get to sit down at the dinner table, go ice skating, or wander around a holiday market because of the restrictions in place, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make room for new household traditions. There’s no rulebook that makes cookie-frosting or movie-watching in pajamas religious, so take new leaps into secular Christmas traditions that wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the pandemic in place.
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Christmas trees–evergreens decorated with tinsel and ornaments–are icons of the holiday. But, before they were attached to the religious holiday, it was traditional in Germany to give a home to an evergreen during the Christmas season. You don’t necessarily have to label the Christmas tree as religious; find creative ways to decorate your evergreen to your own style or even to your own culture and put it on display.
You can read more about the Christmas Tree as a secular icon here.
Well-wishing has no religious ties. In the midst of the pandemic, where families are separated and large gatherings are being cancelled, sending one another our best wishes for the coming new year is all that we can do. So, jump on a FaceTime call with or pen a handwritten letter to a loved one and describe how the distance is temporary and that you can’t wait to see them when times are safer!