Have yourself a non-Christian Christmas

On Christmas Eve, Spanish teacher Eileen Caetta hangs little snowflakes and snowmen by her window to prepare for the holiday. But while she continues some holiday traditions,  a lot has changed in the last two years. Now there is no Christmas tree, no longer any Christmas carols sung, no holiday services at church. Caetta, who converted to Islam two years ago, now celebrates for her Christian friends and family.

“I don’t but my family still does. One of my sons lives in town [and] this year he’s invited me to his place for dinner—he and his roommates are going to cook. Usually my parents and family send cards,” she said. “I guess it’s not a whole lot different from the way it was before, but outside of what I do with colleagues and family, it’s not really anything for me.”

Every December, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and agnostics are pulled into the world of Christmas carols, gift-giving, and Christmas trees. But there is no hostility against the Christian holiday. On the contrary, many non-Christians participate in parts of the seasonal traditions, and those who don’t often still relish the Christmas ambiance.

Social Studies teacher Steve Levine, who is Jewish, has a Christian family, and he celebrates a hybrid of Christmas and Hanukkah.

“My wife goes to church, but to me…there’s less of a connection to actually attending church–but as a family we do attend,” he said. “We try to keep a balance between the religious and commercial aspects of Christmas. There’s also a Jewish lamp, a menorah. Hanukkah is more commercial to liberal Jews—for example, there are Jewish that put up Hanukkah lights just like Christmas lights. But it’s still less commercialized than Christmas.”

Junior Shadre C. is agnostic—a person who believes in the possibility of God, but follows no organized religion. She still, however, enjoys the Christmas spirit.

“My house is ‘Christmas-ified’: The door has Santa [on it] and the walls have snowflakes, and we have a Christmas tree,” she said. “My family gets together at my grandma’s house—we eat, give presents, and watch Christmas movies.”

Shadre doesn’t think the holiday goes against her faith.

“Since agnosticism is between religion and atheism, I don’t think [agnostics] have a negative feeling towards it,” she said. “Agnostics just think it’s any other holiday.”

Buddhist David V., a senior who also celebrates Christmas, agrees that the holiday is a time to enjoy, regardless of religion.

“To me as a non-Christian, [Christmas] means a time of relaxation, love, gift-giving and gift receiving,” he said. “Personally I don’t get offended by the whole ‘Merry Christmas’ thing but some people do. I think in the spirit of the holidays you shouldn’t be so sensitive about that kind of thing. It’s just a time to enjoy your break, give gifts and love your friends and family.”

Junior Mohit A., on the other hand, believes Christmas is a holiday for children.

“When we were little we did the whole tree and the Christmas thing, but now we don’t because we’re too lazy to do that,” he said. “When we were young it was quite exciting. [Now I do] nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

To sophomore Aroge I., a Muslim, Christmas is also a time to stay at home, but she likes sharing the holiday joy with her Christian friends.

“It still makes me feel happy—you’re around people who are happy and you feel their happiness with them even if [Christmas] doesn’t mean anything to you,” she said. “I think Christmas is more an occasion of happiness.”

Junior Laura V., a strong Christian, thinks Christmas is over-commercialized.

“I feel that we don’t know the true meaning of Christmas,” she said. “I have to admit that it’s about presents, but that’s not the whole point…Christmas is when Christ is born and I don’t really hear anyone celebrate that anymore.”

Like Laura, Aroge thinks that Christmas isn’t as religious as other holidays.

“Being a Muslim, on Eid, you go to the mosque and pray, and that’s where religion comes in,” she said. “And Christmas is different because you don’t do anything religion-wise.”

Levine wants the moral lessons of Christmas to be stressed over the gift-giving and decorating.

“I revel in the teachings,” he said. “Like good will towards men [and] respecting people…I relate more to that than the commercialism. I wish that people would celebrate the better part of what Christmas teaches all year round.”

Regardless, Caetta believes that Christmas is about respecting others.

“I strongly believe in what I believe in and I accept people who don’t,” she said. “’Live together and appreciate each others’ diversity is the way I see it.”