As beautiful as the holiday is, we do have to ask ourselves if it’s time to stop imposing the celebration of Christmas at a federal level.
A British school has come under fire this year for a rather controversial and bold move to teach their pupils something about the meaning of the holiday spirit. Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering, North Yorkshire, told its students it was banning Christmas on the grounds that the holiday is “too commercial.” The students were given the opportunity to bring Christmas back, however, if they delve reflectively into the meaning of the season and are able to convince with good arguments their religions ed teacher of its value.
As good as this strategy might be to hone students’ argumentation skills and make them appreciate a beloved tradition even more, this ban does pose an interesting question beyond its pedagogical virtues. Should we celebrate Christmas at all?
There is much to be said against the holiday as a whole. After all, Christmas ultimately represents a historical imperialism that has resulted in much oppression throughout the world, as well as the general imposition of one of the darkest periods in history. The holidays resulted from several stages of bloody human conflict—from the violent propagation of Christianity throughout Europe to the terrible European colonization of the rest of the continents.
But even if we leave its violent history aside, there’s something perversely wrong with imposing an ultimately religious tradition throughout a supposedly secular nation, especially a nation composed of immigrants and constituted by the mixture of different peoples, cultures and faiths. The United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, and many other countries fit this description. So, valuing freedom as much as we do in Western society, how come we’re okay with such an imposition? Indeed, when faced with the news of a school banning Christmas altogether, most people react with indignation and confusion: why would any institution do that? That is an odd reaction, incongruent even, when you think about it.
Perhaps the question is not why would a school or a family—or, indeed, a country—not celebrate Christmas. The real question is why would we ever? On an individual level, celebrating Christmas is in fact a choice, and no one should be forbidden from doing so. But there’s little sense in stipulating this Christian festivity as a public, federal, and official holiday for a whole country. That simply goes against the values of a truly secular, tolerant, free, and democratic society composed of multiple religions and cultural backgrounds.
Now, of course, some people would argue that Christmas is not actually imposed on anyone: no one forces you to celebrate it if you don’t want to. But that’s hardly the point. We still allow for this event in particular to stipulate which days are deemed “sacred” and which aren’t during the final month of the year. It determines whether we get vacations or bonuses, and we’re bombarded with thematic merchandise and decorations even at the governmental level. In the end, a government that celebrates a religious holiday is not a secular government at all. No festivity from other religions gets this level of attention from so many official institutions—so it would just sound odd to claim governmental secularism when there’s such a marked religious bias.
We’ve already argued that Christmas has a meaning that goes well beyond religion. But it did start as a religious tradition, and it does have strong Christian undertones, whether we like it or not. It’s possible our society has finally reached a point where it would make sense to stop celebrating such holidays at a federal level, moving towards a more inclusive secularism that truly respects religious freedom by not imposing a single religious tradition upon people who might not care to celebrate it. Or what do you think?
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