By Emma Neukam
Senior Anurag Bhattrai takes part in all the expected Christmas time traditions—decorating the tree, putting lights on the house and exchanging gifts with his family and friends. There’s just one quality that separates him from most other celebrators of the holiday; he’s an atheist.
Because he is an atheist, Bhattrai said he does not participate in any religious celebration during the holiday. “My family really doesn’t celebrate it; they just kind of go through the motions,” he said.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization aimed at defending religious liberty, 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas each year—but like Bhattrai, not all of these Americans actually celebrate it for religious significance. With more people like Bhattrai celebrating Christmas without religious basis, many argue that the holiday is becoming increasingly secular and commercial.
Junior Saumya Sankhavaram said the holiday bears no religious meaning to her family because she is Hindu. “It’s just a time for my family to get together and be together over the holiday,” she said. “There’s no festival that coincides with (Christmas) so we don’t really do anything else.”
Both Bhattrai and Sankhavaram said the holiday is becoming increasingly secular.
“Lots of people besides Christians celebrate it,” Bhattrai said. “Santa Claus seems to be a much more important figure than Jesus is. People are more excited about presents rather than celebrating the birth of Christ.”
Despite what Bhattrai says, junior Emily Bonham is a student who said she does celebrate Jesus’ birth, and it’s a major holiday in her religion, Catholicism.
“We celebrate it to commemorate the birth of Jesus,” Bonham said. Besides celebrating with lights and a Christmas tree, her family also counts down the days before Christmas with an Advent calendar.
Even though she celebrates Christmas for religious reasons, Bonham said she thinks gift-giving is definitely emphasized over the holiday. “You see how much buying gifts is stressed so early in the year,” she said.
Charlene Whitehead, store manager of Wooden Key Gift & Card Shop in Merchant’s Square, said she believes Christmas is more commercialized than it was several years ago.
From a retail standpoint, Whitehead said a business could gain an entire year’s profit during the holiday season. In fact, retail sales jumped 40 percent last year in December compared to the preceding months and consumers purchased $28.2 billion worth of gifts in department stores alone.
But in Bonham’s opinion, the holiday should not be transforming into a secular, commercial holiday. “We’re losing the reason why we celebrate holidays in the first place,” she said.
Bhattrai said he doesn’t care that the holiday is becoming secular, but said it’s just part of the “cultural revolution” society is going through.
With the current state of the economy, Whitehead said she notices consumers are spending their money on different types of gifts this year.
“When the economy is doing dips like it has been, people tend to get back to family values,” she said. In other words, to respond to the current economic recession, consumers buy gifts that portray sentiment, like the items sold at Hallmark.
Whitehead said she believes people notice Christmas becoming increasingly secular and commercialized mainly because of the emphasis the media has on advertising for the holiday.
“(The media) kind of forces you to promote it more,” she said. “Advertising is out there, and we as consumers, we’re finding the best bargains, the best deals, and we have made it (commercialized).”
Despite the contrasting opinions, Christmas is a topic for much debate this holiday season. As Whitehead said, “Everyone has an opinion. I think if you want it to be a commercial holiday, it’s out there for you and if you don’t, then you have (Christmas) in your heart.”