Melissa Wilson ponders the relevance of Christmas in our largely secular society.
When fictional character George Constanza of Seinfeld was growing up his father hated all commercial and religious aspects of Christmas. Instead, he took it upon himself to devise his very own holiday – Festivus – a holiday falling on 23 December that acted as a secular antithesis to the humble Christmas celebration.
While I’m not suggesting a traditional Festivus aluminium pole in place of Christmas trees in living rooms of Australian households every December, he might’ve been onto something.
Every year millions of Australians celebrate Christmas. Christmas cheer is spread across mainstream media, school children sing Christmas carols and shopping centre car parks become hell on earth. But with 22.3 per cent of Australians ticking the ‘no religion’ box in the 2011 census, is it time to develop a secular-friendly holiday?
Now, hear me out – I promise I’m not trying to be the Grinch. Even as a non-religious individual I can appreciate the value of Christmas. It’s the only time of year when my family unconditionally agrees to take a moment out, enjoy each other’s company and eat a whole lot of food – and family and food are two of the most beautiful things in my life.
However somewhere between nursing my food baby and being crowned family board game champ I find myself worrying that I’m trivialising the true meaning of Christmas to those who hold it in great significance.
23-year-old Kelly Rampton was raised by her family in the Seventh Day Adventist church, and as a Christian she maintains the memories she makes with her relatives are what Christmas is all about.
Kelly doesn’t have a problem with atheists or agnostic individuals celebrating Christmas differently to her and her family, but she explains the commercial side of Christmas is what she really finds disappointing,
“I do feel that those people celebrating it for different reasons are missing our on an opportunity to be grateful, which is so important.”
Nathan Van Dyk is a 21-year-old student at the University of Newcastle, and although he attended a Christian school he now identifies as atheist.
“Christmas day begins as most do with the opening of presents, then while the parents are out at church I blast some hellish death metal renditions of Christmas carols while I can get away with it.”
He goes on to explain that his family then congregates to enjoy a joint feast and relax in each other’s company.
As an atheist, Nathan says that a more secular holiday celebration is definitely something he’d be open to, particularly one considerate of the hot conditions we experience here in the Southern Hemisphere during the holiday season.
“Just as the winter solstice is celebrated with the Yuletide in the Northern Hemisphere, I feel some sort of celebration of the summer solstice would fit perfectly with the Australian ethos.”
It seems some of the core values of Christmas transcend religious boundaries. As Kelly says, “To be awfully cliché, it’s the thought that counts, and I sometimes wish that we could find a way to express that without all the wasted money, time and abundance of useless presents.”
So whether you wake up and go to church, count down the sleeps until Christmas, or 25 December is just another day for you, taking time out to relax in the company of family and friends may just be the most enjoyable thing you do this holiday season.