It’s the holidays!!!! I love this time of year. The lights, decorating, the parties, the events the SHOPPING!! (I have two very spoiled children…). And the general feeling of happiness and good cheer.
But it can also be a time of intense controversy. Some schools are debating the appropriateness of celebrating the Christian Christmas holiday and ignoring Hanukkah and Kwanzaa (and maybe other ones I’m unaware of!), while others are enraged that their child’s classroom might not have a Christmas tree this year. In recent years, there’s been some debate about whether it’s appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever holiday a particular person wants to represent. There is a huge sh*tstorm surrounding “political correctness” and “rights” and public vs. private schools, etc. It can get pretty intense. At the end of the day, my personal mantra is that in a diversified world of many belief systems, it works well to just enjoy celebrating no matter what holiday happens to be represented at the particular location at which I’m celebrating (or the particular person with whom I’m celebrating). Nothing detracts from the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa (Christmahanukwanzaa, anyone?) spirit than arguing about who’s holiday is most important!
Which leads right into why I love Santa. A lot of people don’t like Santa. They think the story encourages lies, or detracts from the true spirit of Christmas, or is just plain silly. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think idealizing him or overemphasizing him is necessarily healthy (and we’re definitely missing out on some serious representation from Mrs. Claus) but I believe he can be a force for good: I believe Santa encourages holiday spirit, love, and acceptance more than any other holiday figure, simply because he is NOT of religious significance.
Allow me to explain.
I grew up in a Christian home, in a large family of 5 children. When we were kids, Christmas was Christmas was Christmas. We read scriptures, discussed the birth of Christ, and did the traditional Christmas movies, stockings, and present-opening in the morning. It was an amazing bonding experience where we all learned the excitement of knowing others loved us and that we loved them. We grew to love giving gifts as much as receiving them, and to give service and take joy in the special time we have to spend with those we love.
Then this crazy thing happened: we all started growing up and my siblings started doing this insane thing of choosing their own spiritual paths!! In a matter of 4 or 5 years our family went from strict Christian to Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, and Buddhist representation. As our first Christmas in a spiritually diverse family approached, I began to wonder what might happen. Would my siblings not like Christmas anymore? Would they not come home for the holiday? Would they be upset about any references made to the Christian holiday? Would they still even want to celebrate Christmas? Would we lose all those warm, loving memories we had for so many years?
Well, they did want to celebrate it. They did want come home. They did want to share more memories. And this is why I’m grateful for Santa Claus. Though, as my sister most accurately reminded me, I’m not a big fan of a big old bearded man who watches every move we make to make sure we’re being good and then rewards us or punishes us thusly, there are things that make Santa Claus just wonderful. Santa is the areligious figurehead. He is the supporter of diversity, the fosterer (is that a word??) of goodwill and the maintainer (is THAT a word??) of family tradition. Think about it: why would my atheist and agnostic siblings want to come home to celebrate Christmas? Santa Claus! Can’t complain about celebrating a jolly old man who hands out presents! Why would a friend exploring different religions be interested in joining us for Christmas dinner? Well Santa, of course; he is areligious! What stories will we tell, what traditions will we discuss, and what themes will we enjoy on Christmas in a religiously diverse family? Why those of Santa Claus! Suddenly Christmas didn’t have to be an awkward day where half the family ogled over Christian topics while the other half of the family tried to change the subject and everyone ended up feeling uncomfortable. We didn’t have to miss the continuation of those wonderful moments growing up opening presents together, eating a large dinner, sharing stockings, and bulking up on candy. Because Santa is of no religion and all religions at the same time (in the interest of full disclosure, I am not incredibly well-versed on the crossroads of Santa and Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, so if I’m being ignorant here, please feel free to point it out). He is the proverbial melting pot. And because of him, his elves, his reindeer, and his sleigh, my family will be able to celebrate Christmas together every year no matter what road life guides us down.
Now that’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t celebrate a Christ-centered holiday, Jews shouldn’t focus on Hanukkah, and African/African-Americans shouldn’t follow their Kwanzaa traditions. Quite the opposite! Enjoy those religious and cultural traditions that solidify your personal heartfelt beliefs. The holiday season is less fun, in my opinion, without the devotion we see to so many different equally good things. But it’s wonderful to know that when we all come together to “celebrate the season” we have something we can all share together.
So the next time someone says “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Merry Christmahanakwanza”, just smile, repeat their salutation, and remember all the beautiful cultural and religious diversity we can all enjoy this season because of the big man in the red suit.
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