Thursday, December 13, 2018

Changing nature of Christmas

Christmas in New Zealand is a mostly secular/cultural holiday, which means that most people don’t engage in the religious traditions surrounding the holiday. It seems as if the USA may be slowly catching up with New Zealand in the way Americans observe Christmas.

This time last year, Pew Research released a look at the relative importance of the religious aspects of Christmas in the USA, and the results show a definite decline in the importance of religion. However, it still matters to most people.

Pew sums up the entire report in its opening:
As long-simmering debates continue over how American society should commemorate the Christmas holiday, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past – even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. In addition, a declining majority says religious displays such as nativity scenes should be allowed on government property. And compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season – whether with “merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans are more likely to back traditional Christian religious views of Christmas, Democrats less so. However, what’s different is mainly the percentages, rather than having completely different positions on the underlying religious assumptions. Even so, the strength of adherence to a religious Christmas is declining for both sets, a trend that, all other things being equal, is probably likely to continue.

This also isn’t about religious orientation as such. A non-religious Christmas is sometimes called a “cultural holiday” because the people themselves may be at least somewhat religious or spiritual, even if they don’t treat Christmas as a religious thing. That matters because of the automatic assumption that people who don’t observe a religious tradition are atheists or agnostics, but, statistically, most such people are religious/spiritual, but don’t necessarily adhere to any particular religion—the “nones”, as they’re often called in statistics reporting.

I’m one of those who doesn’t think the religious side of Christmas matters (except to the religious, of course, and that’s their business, not mine). But Christmas can be a purely cultural, or secular, holiday involving time with family and friends, and for many of us—including most New Zealanders—that’s exactly what it is. I like it that way.

No comments: