The outs and ins of Christmas
Write to the Point
Last updated 12/19/2019 at 11:13am
By JOHN McCALLUM
I’ve been thinking about Christmas.
Right, haven’t we all. Or at least most of us in some way.
According to a 2019 report by SafeHome.org using data from various Pew Research Center surveys, nine in 10 American adults will celebrate Christmas in some way. That’s not bad considering census figures put the number of people identifying as Protestant Christians around 55 percent with about 30 percent of Americans claiming affiliation with non-Christian sects along with agnostic and atheist.
According to the data, Washington state is No. 3 in the nation with 32 percent of residents not claiming to be members of any specific religion. We’re also No. 5 with 2.1 percent of residents professing to hold pagan, Wiccan or Native American faiths and No. 22 with 3.1 percent of the population identifying as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu.
How we celebrate Christmas is also changing. For instance, greeting one another.
Despite pledges to return “Merry Christmas” as the universal greeting this time of year, a 2017 Pew study indicated 52 percent of respondents said it doesn’t matter if they are greeted with “Merry Christmas” or with some other less religious salutation. In 2005, 45 percent felt it didn’t matter.
The SafeHome study revealed only 51 percent of people saying their Christmas Eve or Day plans included attending religious services, with 42 percent of Millenials saying they would be joining these observances. Personally, that’s too bad because it was at a candlelight Christmas Eve service years ago where I actually had what one might call a “spiritual experience.”
As an addendum to what was written above, according to the 2017 Pew study, 56 percent of respondents felt the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past, and 39 percent said it either didn’t bother them or bothered them some.
Finally, staying with religion, a declining number of Americans believe the four aspects of the Christmas story — Jesus born of a virgin, laid in a manger, receiving gifts from wise men guided by a star and angels announcing his birth — are historical events. That decline isn’t just with non-believers but with Christians as well as 85 percent believe in the virgin birth, 89 percent in the manger scenario, 84 percent in the wise men and 86 percent in the angels, compared to 90, 92, 88 and 90 percent respectively in a 2014 survey.
So with these stats in mind, what then is Christmas? What does it mean?
For many people, ask these questions and you’ll receive answers like Santa Claus, enjoying music such as singing carols or listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio (you know), shopping, Christmas plays and pageants, decorating trees and homes, food and getting together with family. All good answers in that they embody (mostly) pleasant memories and relaxing times that hopefully rejuvenate the mind, body and soul.
But it’s that latter that truly embodies the essence of Christmas. There is no biblical reason for celebrating the holiday when we do, rather a tradition of attaching the birth of someone who was to bring light into a dark world with the pagan practice of celebrating that time when the darkness of winter bottoms out, as it were, and we begin to slowly return to a time of light and warmth.
It’s a time of rejuvenation, celebrated with lights and marked by quiet contemplation of what has transpired and what is to come. I was struck by this years ago as a newly-minted teenager walking home alone from a midnight, candlelight service at my dad’s church.
The only sound on my way home was the crunch of my boots in the deep snow, and the only lights along my path were the homes of fellow residents of Wilbur, Wash. decked out in colorful light. Without many street lights along my way, I could look up at the cold, black December night sky and gaze upon the myriads of stars blinking back at me.
Somehow, that reality overwhelmed me in manner difficult to relate today because there aren’t really words for it. But I came to an understanding Christmas isn’t about history, artifacts or other trappings humans have attached to it throughout the years.
It’s about an ending and a beginning. A change. A chance for calmness, quiet reflection and a turning inwards.
It’s about peace.
John McCallum can be reached at email@example.com.