Arguably, there are two separate Christmases happening tomorrow — one secular (with gift exchanges, trees covered in lights, and family togetherness) and one religious (as in, Christ’s Mass). It seems to me that people’s Christmas customs fall all over the spectrum between these two, with some celebrating a very Jesus-centered Christmas, some celebrating a totally Jesus-free Christmas, and some with various degrees of secular and religious combined. From an atheist perspective, I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about this cultural phenomenon.
On the one hand, it seems pretty good. Most people’s opinions on religion aren’t formed by extensive logical and scientific analysis but rather on cultural identity. That means that, even if we imagine a world where everybody understands that there’s no good reason to believe in Christianity, many people will still want to participate in Christian cultural traditions. The secular Christmas allows people to continue to have that happy holiday they’ve enjoyed since childhood without actually endorsing Christianity.
On the other hand, the transition of beliefs doesn’t have to go in that direction alone. Perhaps the pervasiveness of a secular Christmas provides a fun and easy introduction to Christianity. Once you make a habit of celebrating Christmas and think of the custom as part of your identity, you become more vulnerable to arguments about what the “real Christmas” ought to look like. Of course you want to celebrate the “real” holiday — you love Christmas, it’d be bad to do it “wrong” — and thus a secular Christmas can turn into a religious one.
So, I don’t know where I come down on this. It’s hard to get any real data about the possible effects, because of the spectrum of different Christmases celebrated (and people’s not-necessarily-reliable assessment of where on the spectrum they fall), and the gradual change of such things over long periods of time. So, I don’t know which option has a larger effect. And maybe there’s something else I’ve completely failed to consider. What do you think?