The Secularisation of Christmas
by Conor Culverhouse
Growing up in a non-believing family, Christmas was always an interesting time of year. Trees, decorations, gifts – all for a holiday in which very few of my friends and family actually believed in the source of. No-one other than my Grandad actually believed in the Virgin birth, let alone that the child born was the Son of God. So, I began to think. Why do we celebrate? Why do we give gifts? Why did our school which had no religious affiliation have us go to a carol service every year? Now I have come to understand why, but the underlying problem still remains. Secularisation.
So, what is secularisation? Well, secularism has been defined as “an idolatry that…worships some created thing, or more than one thing, within the saeculum – the present age”. Secularisation, therefore, is the movement in which secularism attempts to override previously held values and traditions. In this instance these values and traditions are of the West which are typically based on a Biblical system of morality and ethics. As it relates to Christmas, the West takes a Christian celebration and attempts to secularise it. This is seen most obviously in the commercialisation of Christmas. We can all agree that Christmas is a great opportunity to get gifts for those we love. But why do we give gifts? Matthew 2:11 says “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”. So, we give gifts because the wise men gave gifts to the baby Jesus. The secularisation of Christmas has taken an act of worship and has completely perverted it. Christmas, to many, is now just an excuse to buy the newest gadgets, spend lots of money and indulge in (in some cases) sheer gluttony – for a celebration many don’t even believe in the origins of. The act remains the same but the meaning behind it, for many has become redundant.
The logical follow up question then is: why do people who claim not to believe in Christ being the Son of God or even existing, celebrate His birth? Let us begin with this premise: if a large portion of the world celebrates Christmas, there must be an element of truth to it. (For an historical timeline of Christmas through the ages see https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas) If the secular world celebrates Christmas there is a clear flaw that stands out: people are celebrating something they claim to be untrue. My thought, in response to the previous question, would be this: people celebrate Christmas because they like the foundation of it and what it stands for but do not want to adhere to the ‘restrictions’ that come along with believing in its origins. If one believes that the Son of God was born and that is the reason we celebrate Christmas, then how can one logically ignore the rest of Christ’s life without being overtly hypocritical?
The response to this has, sadly, been to move slowly away from even using the term Christmas. All too often we see “Happy Holidays” for what I assume is inclusivity purposes. But let us call a spade a spade. We are celebrating Christmas. The birth of Jesus. The Word becoming flesh (John 1:14). What a joyous opportunity to celebrate and rejoice in the birth of our Saviour. This is the epitome of the secularisation of Christmas; the taking of something so sacred and praiseworthy and removing all spiritual value from it. We need to hold true to the meaning of Christmas and not succumb to worldly efforts to remove Jesus from the foundation of the festive season. No Jesus no Christmas – it’s that simple.
For sure, it is difficult. Every TV channel is advertising gift ideas, copious amounts of food and a heavy reliance on seemingly everything “fundamental” to Christmas that isn’t Jesus. I don’t want this to come across as a dampener on Christmas. It is such a wonderful time of year to celebrate such a crucial event in the history of the universe. We just have to ensure two things. First, that we don’t let the world run away with twisted notions of Christmas and take it for what it isn’t. We need to defend it as the day Christ entered the world as a human thus giving us something to celebrate. Second, we need to check our hearts so that we are glorifying God in our actions. We can enjoy gifts, and good food and time to relax but let us not do so in a secular way. Let us honour God with our conduct and not indulge in idolatrous, worldly behaviours.
As secularism seems to encroach more and more into popular culture, we as Christians must ensure that tradition and, more fundamentally, truth is not lost in the process. Ask those that don’t know Jesus why they celebrate Christmas. Remember why we give gifts and make sure that they joy of gift giving doesn’t become routine. Say Merry Christmas and buy cards that read the same. Sadly, the birth of Jesus has become an excuse for the secular world to indulge in idolatrous ways. Let us remind people the true meaning of Christmas, and the miracle that is worth celebrating.
 D. Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions 2nd Edn, p.17