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Christmas wars (a.k.a. December Dilemma)

Celebrations by various faiths and
cultures near the end of the year.
Two individuals' personal comments.

The increase of religious diversity in the U.S.:

The U.S. has traditionally been a Protestant Christian nation. However Protestants are believed to have become a minority for the first time during 2006. 4 Meanwhile, according to the national ARIS study, about 75% of American adults currently identify themselves as Christians -- a number that is decreasing by about 0.8 percentage point per year. If this rate continues, Christianity will become a minority religion in the 2030s. Most Americans will then either have no religious affiliation or will identify themselves with a non-Christian faith.

A number of influences have been responsible for these changes. Some are:

bulletThe major loss of membership by mainline and liberal Christian denominations in recent decades, compensated by a rise in attendance at conservative congregations;
bulletThe influx of immigrants who follow non-Christian religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam;

bulletThe rise of Agnosticism, Atheism, Humanism, freethinking, and secularism;

bulletThe increasing membership in new religions, like New Age, Wicca, etc.

bulletA return by many Native Americans to the Aboriginal faiths of their ancestors.

America is clearly becoming more religiously diverse. Canada, Europe and some other countries are following the same trend.

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The potential for conflict:

Reflecting this increase in religious diversity, there are now many religious celebrations widely observed during the month of December in North America. Many are related to the day when the winter solstice occurs -- between DEC-20 and 22. This date has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime of the day, in the Northern Hemisphere:

bullet Bodhi Day by Buddhists. This recalls the date when Buddha attained enlightenment. (DEC-08).
bullet Christmas by Christians. The ancient Christians took over Saturnalia, an ancient Roman Pagan seven day festival of Saturn which started on DEC-17 and used it to commemorate the birth of Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). Internal evidence in the Bible indicates that he was born in the Fall between 4 and 7 BCE.
bulletThe Day of the Return of the Wandering Goddess has also been observed by followers of Kemetic Orthodoxy, the religion of ancient Egypt, since about 4500 BCE This celebrates the return of the Goddess Hathor to her father Ra and the healing of their relationship. It is synchronized to the Winter Solstice
bullet Hanukkah (a.k.a. Chanukah, Festival of Lights, & Festival of Rededication) by Jews. It is an eight day holiday that begins on the 25th day of Kislev which can occur in very late November or during December. Rabbi Allen Maller has donated an essay for this web site titled "Why Hanukah is for Muslim Jews."

Id al-Fitr by Muslims for a few years before 2006. Between 2006 and 2008, it was Id al-Adha (a.k.a. the Feast of Sacrifice or Day of Sacrifice). During 2009 and 2010, it is Ashura:

  • For Sunni Muslims, Ashura is a day of fasting that was originally observed by Jews to recall when God saved the Children of Israel from the Pharoah in Egypt. Muhammad made it compulsory for Muslims as well.
  • For Shiite Muslims, Ashura recalls an event circa 680-OCT-20 CE in Iraq when an army of the Umayyad regime martyred a group of 70 individuals who refused to submit to the Caliph. One of the martyrs was Imam Husain, the youngest grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
bulletWinter Solstice is celebrated by some Native Americans and Aboriginals in the rest of the world.
bulletMany Atheists, at least in North America, have begun to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
bulletSaturnalia by Nova Romans (a.k.a. Romana). 1,2 These are Neopagans who worship the ancient Gods of Rome and who celebrate the ancient Roman holy days.
bulletYule by Wiccans and some other Pagans.

This month also includes a number of cultural celebrations. Three are:

bulletFestivus, a celebration "for the rest of us". It is as a simple, rather humorous family alternative to Christmas with a minimum of commercialization.
bulletKwanzaa (a.k.a. Kwanzaa, Quansa) is a week-long, inter-faith celebration -- a cultural holiday celebrating African-American heritage.
bulletOmisoka is a very popular end-of-year celebration in Japan.
bulletShabe-Yalda, an Iranian inter-faith celebration in honor of the sun's rebirth.

More information on these religious and secular celebrations.

Changes in the countries' religious makeup can present conflicts over TV programming, public school curriculum, shopping mall displays, etc:

bulletSome Christians object to their Christian traditions no longer being given prime or exclusive status. They balk when the celebration of the birthday of their savior is replaced by what they view as some kind of a politically correct, generic, faith-free reference to winter or holiday festivals. They are unhappy with the generic greeting "Happy Holidays" which is replacing "Merry Christmas."
bulletSome followers of non-Christian religions object to having their faith group's religious celebrations ignored and swamped by the attention given to Christmas.
bulletSome NOTAs (None of The Above's) -- individuals who do not identify themselves with any religion -- object to being bombarded with what they view as over a month of high-intensity commercialized religious propaganda each winter.

Since the media, schools and commercial establishments are shared by all, a degree of religious tolerance and a willingness to compromise is needed to minimize conflict. In order to be sensitive to the preferences of some non-Christians, some municipal governments, companies, and organizations have changed their terminology. Some:

bulletOffice Christmas parties are now called "End of year parties."
bulletRetailers now wish their customers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
bulletMunicipal Christmas trees are now called "Community Trees."
bulletSome Christmas celebrations are now called "Winterfest" or "winter celebrations" or "solstice observances."

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A comment by a Washington Post columnist:

E.J. Dionne, Jr wrote a column titled "Peace on Earth?" in the Washington Post for 2004-DEC-21 -- perhaps by coincidence, on the Winter Solstice, a date celebrated by Atheists, Wiccans, and many followers of Aboriginal religions. He is a Christian who greets fellow Christians with "Merry Christmas" at this time of year. He greets Jews with a "Happy Hanukah." To those whose religion is unknown to him, he gives a "Happy Holiday" greeting. He writes:

"Some Christians see the broader culture as unremittingly hostile to their faith and wonder why it's easier to celebrate Santa, Rudolph and the Grinch than to sing praise to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and nonbelievers, meanwhile, insist that government should not push the faith of the majority into the faces of those who do not share it....."

"What in the world is 'Christian' about insisting on saying 'Merry Christmas' to a devout Jew or Hindu who might reasonably view the statement as a sign of disrespect? At the level of government: Is it really 'Christian' for a religious majority to press its advantage over religious minorities, including nonbelievers? "

"Personally, I am partial to seasonal celebrations that acknowledge our religious diversity by allowing traditions to express themselves in their integrity. This is better than allowing only a commercial Christmas mush that satisfies no one except the retailers. Trying to delete every form of religious expression from the public square leads to foolishness. But one thing is even more foolish: for the religious majority to feel 'oppressed' by a public etiquette designed to honor the rights of those outside its ranks....."

"The great Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that 'the chief source of man's inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men.' I fear that in these Christmas debates, Christians are behaving not as Christians but as a tribe: 'We will pound them if they get in the way of our customs and rituals'."

"Tribal behavior is antithetical to the spirit of peace and good will. In this season, we ought to be taking the most expansive possible view of our obligations to others." 5

One person's experience:

CNN News described the Christmas-time experiences of a Jewish boy growing up in Texas a generation ago. As a eleven-year-old child in elementary school, Joel Schwartzberg sang many traditional Christmas songs in the elementary school choir. When the rest of the choir was singing carols like "Silent Night, Holy Night," he felt uncomfortable at the references to Christian belief. He kept his mouth shut. He recalls his teacher telling him that he had to sing all the words if he wanted to participate. Now, as an adult with children about to enter the school system, he does not want his children to replicate his own experience. He said that it is possible to draw a line:

"When students are compelled to engage in evangelical activities even without intent or proselytizing with the alternative being nothing except to sit out, I think that's not appropriate. There's no difference between performing the songs and having the teacher read them in front of the class, or instructing the class to read them collectively.'' 3

References used:

  1. "Frequently Asked Questions On Hellenic Neopaganism (Graeco-Roman Neopaganism)," The Stele, at:
  2. "Saturnalia Practices of Nova Romans," Nova Romans, at:
  3. David Porter, "Same old song at Christmas: Do carols discriminate?," Associated Press, 2004-DEC-18, at:
  4. "Study finds number of Protestants is falling," Houston Chronicle, 2004-JUL-21. Posted on the Free Republic bulletin board at:
  5. E.J. Dionne Jr., "Peace on Earth? Not with this season's Christmas wars," Washington Post, 2004-NOV-21, at: We were only able to quote portions of his article due to copyright restrictions. The full article is well worth reading.
  6. "Daily Devotions,", at:

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Copyright © 2004 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-DEC-04
Latest update: 2014-DEC-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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