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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 10:47 GMT
Have we forgotten the meaning of Christmas?
Many high street stores are reporting record turnovers as consumers ignore potential economic worries and indulge in last minute Christmas shopping.
Across the country the party season is in full swing as revellers make the most of the festivities.
But not everyone is having such a good time.
Organisations such as the Samaritans believe that over the Christmas period there is more family conflict and more people attempt suicide than at any other time of the year.
In addition, many people feel pressured to enter into the party spirit.
Has commercialism hijacked the spiritual meaning of Christmas? Are we more interested in receiving than giving? Have we lost the true Christmas spirit?
This Talking Point was suggested by Albert P'Rayan, Kigali, Rwanda :
Christmas is an occasion for family gatherings and parties. We spend much money on buying new things and get-togethers. Have we really forgotten the meaning of Christmas and Christ's message to his followers?
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This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
This year I have seen precious little evidence of the spirit of Christmas. Normally I feel that people are more kindly for a few weeks, then the no-holds barred scrap for those sale bargains disperses those charitable feelings to the winds. With moves towards a secular society well under way, I wonder how long it will be before Christmas as a holiday is cancelled. Perhaps to avoid offending other religions the midwinter break should take place over the New Year, 31 December and 1 and 2 January. This way no religious group is favoured, not even those who still follow the pagan traditions.
Totally forgotten the meaning - last night I went to a carol evening. All the adults were singing, but were being drowned out by the kids playing table football. Says a lot for the up and coming generation.
Right on Chris Gower! I like having a holiday full of family, friends, gifts, drinking, dancing and singing. If the worst thing that can happen is McDonalds making a profit on Santa Happy Meals, then I view it as a Christmas well spent.
Ed Manning, UK
As a Paramedic, and an atheist, I detest Christmas...to me it means trying to save the lives of kids cut out of cars, drunk young people, not to mention the people and families they kill, in the name of celebrating Christmas.
I have read all the thoughts of people regarding Christmas. Have most forgotten the happiness of children (our future) when they open their presents, and the joy it brings. We celebrate also the birth of Christ, it matters not if we got the date wrong. I agree that commercialism is becoming
USA worse each year but if we stick to enjoying the real reasons for the holidays then perhaps it will make us less bitter.
Christmas is an individual thing. For me it is a pagan holy day celebrating the shortest day, the plants and all living things. The continual cycle of life and death.
It's AWFUL! I opted out about 20 years ago. Take that first step and give it all up, you'll feel MUCH better!!!
Not forgotten - just mislaid.
I think Christmas lost its meaning a long time ago when it was hijacked by organised religion, I'd be happy to see it lose its religious meaning. The rise in materialism generally, especially among children is another matter entirely.
I think most people, like me, find Christmas Day to be an anti-climax. Eat a roast dinner, eat a mince pie, watch an old film on TV and it's all over for another year. Why on earth we spend so much time and money preparing for this non-event is beyond me.
Try working over Christmas. After a few years you'll see what it really is - a bank holiday where a few people go to church and everyone indulges. Everyone needs a time of year like this though - a chance to let your hair down.
Christmas has lost its meaning because we have been forced into a so-called multi-cultural society which has swamped the meaning of being British and Christian.
Christmas, like most other big holidays, has been controlled by big business for the sake of making money. The sooner we realise this, the sooner we can get on with dispensing with this type of mass insanity.
Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. His message to the world is to love one another. This is a time of peace and love.
When I was younger my grandfather used to say that Christmas is for the children and Hogmanay is for the adults. I think that neither is applicable in this day and age, as they are both for the shopkeeper. The retail industry is the only one that truly believes in the spirit of Christmas.
The shame for me is the apologetic stance we all seem to take for our enjoyment of the Christian festival of Christmas. My employer instructed all its employees not to send out Christian Christmas cards on the grounds they might offend those of other faiths. The cards we have sent out say "Christmas greetings" and depict a scene of snow and reindeer. I have no gripe with those who do not wish to celebrate Christmas but to celebrate it whilst systematically stripping it off its intrinsic meaning is folly.
Chris Gower, Liverpool, England
I have a number of friends from various ethnic and religious backgrounds and whilst we do represent ourselves as a Christian country, the diversity within our population is such that we are actually almost forcing this 'religious' festival on a large proportion of the population for whom it is not applicable. Is it right for us to TELL people to celebrate the birth of Christ? Especially when so many Britains really don't care and the celebration is simply a reason for a day or two off work!
Matthew Farquharson, London, England
I recoil more and more every year at this season of "inconsideration, excess and selfishness". The word "party" has become loathsome. It epitomises a society interested only in drink and noise. How much more 'empty' can we get?
As a firm believer in secularism I am glad that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost. After all Christmas in its true meaning is only something for Christians to celebrate whereas a time for getting drunk, being happy and meeting with old friends and family is something everybody everywhere of any or no religion can share and enjoy. I strongly believe that it is time we put the outdated notion of religion behind us and concentrated on enjoying life. To me that is what Christmas is now about.
Jesus would hate the extreme commercialism of his birthday, which is also seems to be the root of all the stress and greed we hear about. For that reason yes, Christmas does seem to have lost all it's meaning. However, where it exists, he would be delighted to witness the expression of love and the messages of peace Christmas encourages in our society. So, at least the ideals are firmly in place.
We certainly have lost the meaning of Christmas. I am not against the festive spirit of presents and partying (that is necessary) however I would like to see some focus from the media on the Christian origins of Christmas rather than the focus on fun, money and evil that I currently view. I recently saw an trailer for a programme to be aired on Christmas Eve about Satan. Why? At such a time of celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? This is pure evil or at best insanity. A world gone mad!
People waste so much money, time and nerves on buying useless presents for those who have everything already! Good for next summers car boot sales, but bad for your health now. Use the time rather to be with each other, give attention instead of presents. Don't drown kids only with toys, why not instead give them more of your spare time in the new year? It could much more peaceful for most of us.
Winter Solstice, four days late, and everyone's been brainwashed into the commercialist garbage of an economy that the human race would be better off without. Well, I DON'T PLAY.
Dave Rampling, England
I'll have to get back with you after Christmas Eve to answer this one. Because the Christmas Eve church service is usually attended at two or three times the normal Sunday service attendance level. Certainly Christmas is not just about going to church, but perhaps we can at least use this as an indication as to whether we have forgotten the "true" meaning of Christmas. So go to church Christmas Eve, whether you have attended in the last week or the last decade, and ask yourself that question while you pray. I think you will receive a uplifting answer.
Jesus Christ was a friend of prostitutes, alcoholics, conmen, destitutes and other social undesirables. He went to lots of drunken parties. His main enemies were religious politicians. His message is that God loves us, despite our problems. Christmas is a great time for discovering that filling your life up with things still leaves a big hole. Now, what was the problem?
This debate pops up every Christmas. However those who have religious beliefs will not be deterred by commercialism, just as those without beliefs will not be persuaded to have them just because it's Christmas.
Let's get one thing clear. There are two separate things to celebrate at the end of December.
The Mid Winter Festival and the Birth of Jesus. They are different events and non Christians celebrate the former. Christians celebrate both and recognise the fact.
Christmas is symbolic in any case and this fact helps keep things in perspective, it's the whole 12 months that count!
I went to a lovely carol singing evening at St Martin's In The Fields Church just off Trafalgar Square the other evening and I have to say all the fun and singing was ruined by unending, monotonous, speculation about a "god". Christmas is a holiday where we can relax, be happy, and be with those whom we love. To add in two thousand year old folklore really denigrates the ability of the human spirit, by itself, to attain true beauty. Lets ditch the superstition and enjoy the fun without all the guilt.
In the midst of all the commercialism please don't think that the real meaning of Christmas has been forgotten. The radical gospel of Jesus Christ is as (or more) relevant now than ever before. Hundreds of thousands of folks in thousands of churches across the world will be celebrating the truth this Christmas: that a Saviour has been born to free us from all the anxiety and materialism.
I made the point of contacting three old friends I have either fallen out with or stopped contacting. All were happy to hear from me and we have renewed our friendship. My wife is also expecting our first child.
Reconciliation and hope - THAT is the meaning of Christmas to me - not some hijacked credit-card feeding frenzy.
Tim McCarthy, England
Yes, the true meaning of Christmas has been forgotten. Well, it is a very nice sentiment to say that Christmas is about family and good cheer. That is not the true meaning of Christmas. It is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of the Saviour. My first job, after I finished college, I was told by my boss not to send Christmas cards with any Biblical scripture! Apparently it offended people. I did as I was told, then. But, I would not stand for it now. Although Christmas in not only observed by Christians, it still remains a Christian holiday and I do send cards with a spiritual theme. No one has said anything to me. If they do, I will simply remind them of the true meaning of Christmas and why this holiday is celebrated.
In the USA, I find the whole celebration of this blessed event, an exercise in crass materialism. The only more disturbing issue, is that most people have the same view re: materialism but still become an active part in the materialism game.
I think it is great. I get to spend time with my family and buy them gifts I think will make them happy. It is also one of the only times of the year when complete strangers wish you well - that has to be something special.
I think Thomas doesn't know his history... the "X" is a greek chi, which is the first word of "Christ" in Greek. The early church used it as an abbreviation.
How can you not love Christmas? It's a celebration of light and God's love in the middle of the darkest, coldest time of the year.
E.D. Lister, United States of America
For Christians, Christmas can never lose its meaning. We regret the commercialisation but it doesn't change what we believe or the depth of meaning Christmas has.
Christmas would have been extinct long ago if only it wasn't making money for the big corporations. But obviously that is not the reason what Christmas is for. It has definitely lost its meaning and it is time to do something about it. I am FED UP!!!
Christmas was stolen from pre-Christian people's celebration of solstice. I think we really ARE seeing the true meaning of the feast at last.
Ron Slangen, Boston, MA, USA
The commercial sector do their best to destroy the spirit of Christmas every year by ramming it down out throats from October onwards, earlier in some cases. I think the majority of people in the western world have lost the true meaning of most of its traditional celebrations anyway. Christmas is in fact a celebration hijacked by the church. It is actually an ancient thanksgiving to Mother Earth at the midwinter solstice, so new life (and summer) may come again. Hence the symbols of the tree, fruit and other gifts of nature we still have in our homes around this time. Most people will spend their well earned holiday time in car queues at shopping malls that destroy the spirit and crush the soul. I suggest visiting an ancient site in a remote place this holiday to anyone feeling low and give thanks to the earth for giving us life.
The REAL meaning of Christmas is a celebration that Jesus Christ came to Earth to save humanity. Read your Bible, the first two chapters of Luke to see what happened!
Christmas has been hijacked. I agree it started as a pagan festival. This year, here in the USA it has become the most "pagan" I can ever remember. It has not been enjoyable at all. In fact, it has been very unpleasant. All I hear is talk of "buy, buy, buy" and "spend, spend, spend" to keep the enonomy going. Also, many schools and public facilities are not allowing any Christmas decorations or even for people to say "Merry Christmas."
Jesus asked, "When I return, will I still find faith on the earth?" I say: Come quickly, Lord Jesus!
Christmas means a lot to me. I don't know what it means to the next man. But I do feel sorry that so many people give into the pressure and buy gifts they cannot afford. This exploitation is cynical and not just down to the shopkeepers. Anyone who expects expensive presents is just as bad.
Even when I was a child I remember that Christmas seemed to have little to do with Christianity anymore. People like buying and receiving presents at this time of year and for me this is a sad example of how we have become in the West, ignoring what we are spiritually about. Rather we are hoodwinked into buying things for people not because they really want or need them, but because we are made to feel that we should. I do not consider myself Christian, but I understand that the Christmas spirit has nothing to with this driving need to buy 'precious' things. Above all the late night shopping and glitter there is still something in the air, a feeling which you only get when a large group of people are happy. It's just a shame that we get taken in so easily.
Joanne, Herts, UK
Despite the crude comericalism and festivities also so evident on this side of the Atlantic, a significant percentage of our population will fill the Christian churches of the U.S. for both Sunday and special services this year as in each year in the past.
Not all have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.
My company certainly have. They have cancelled the half day off on Christmas eve. We all now have to work until 17:30.
There is at least some Christmas good will in us. Our office collected nearly one thousand dollars as a Christmas gift for the low-income office cleaning lady.
As a Christian, I like to look beyond the commercialism and seek to know the 'Christ' of Christmas. Jesus Christ is my Lord, God and Saviour. Christmas is a time of celebrating God's greatest gift to mankind - his own Son sent to die for our sins (in our place) on the cross, so that we might have a right relationship with God, and receive eternal life. God has done so much in my life, I cannot thank Him enough. I can remember Christmasses where I felt lonely and depressed while the 'rest of the world' were having fun. But Jesus stepped in and gave me true hope and love. That is something worth celebrating every single day of the year!
For those of us who are celebrating the birth of Christ, Christmas has more meaning each time we celebrate it. For those who celebrate Christmas to get drunk, argue, and get overdrawn, they will always see Christmas as a battlefield. I know which option I prefer!
I'm not religious, but this commercialism is starting to drive me nuts. I'm seriously thinking about reducing my Christmas activities to attending a church service. At least it should be reasonably peaceful (I don't expect many others there) and the songs won't have the crass, nauseating twang of the "festive music" bawling out of shops in the high street. I need at least some humbug for the sake of my sanity.
Debbie, London, UK
I just wanted to say the Anthony's email was one of the nicest things I have read for a long time. And also the Christmas spirit is within us all.
We have forgotton the spirit of Christmas. More and more people are having to work over Christmas day and Boxing Day instead of spending time with family and friends.
Christmas has just become to commercialised, we see cards and gifts in some shops from September, it should start at the end of November begining of December. All the business men are interested in now is profit. Not the staff or parents who feel pressured into buying 'the gift' for their child they just want our time and money.
Yes we have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. I'm not religious, but I always remember why we have Christmas. People get too stressed, families fret who to spend it with. Stress stress stress. We have our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day we relax and our son does his presents in the morning from Santa, and at tea time we all sit down and do the remainder. We do families over the Christmas 'period' and have many pleasant days without worry about where to spend Christmas Day.
You bet we have. I just get drunk each night and don't really care who Jesus was.
I feel there is a concerted effort to blot out the true meaning of Christmas (Christ Mass - celebrating the birth of Christ). Each year we hear about attempts to avoid the use of the word Christmas so as not to 'offend' anyone, though I have yet to meet anyone who is offended by the word any more than I am by the use of the word Ramadan.
I heard that Christmas was invented as a way of selling Christianity to pagans and getting them to convert. I believe that Christian values and teachings have gradually given way to mass consumerism. I have always known Christmas to be a time for giving presents and receiving them and although it is always a pleasure making somebody happy with an expensive gift I think it is sad that those who are most in need - the homeless, the poor, the lonely - continue to be denied things which shouldn't be hard to give. What a difference we could make if we took all the Christmas spending money and put it towards helping those on the margins of society. Why keep them on the outside? Why not try to bring them in like the Christians tried to bring the pagans in?
Susan, London, UK
Perhaps the true Christian meaning has less importance in today's society, however, anything that encourages harmony and family get-togethers must surely be worthwhile.
I am fed up of having Christmas songs, gifts and chocolates rammed down my throat by shops from August onwards. By the time you get to Christmas you are fed up with the whole thing. Mind you as December 25th approaches, supermarkets are clearing their shelves for Christmas gifts and replacing them with Easter eggs!!!
Through all the commercial hype and endless office parties it is difficult to remember what it's all about on a conscious level. However, today is my last day in the office and after the obligatory lunch time trip to the pub, I have never hugged, kissed or shook hands with so many people since last Christmas. I think the good will to all men feeling still comes out at this time of year. I think all the special soup kitchens and hostels which are set up at this time of year, bear witness to some kind of Christian feeling still remaining in this world.
If people consider it too much effort to write the whole word 'Christmas', and replace 'Christ' with an 'X', then yes, maybe Christmas has completely lost it's meaning as a Christian celebration, and resorted back to a festival of pagan roots. Dear X, happy birthday. Whoever you are.
Clarissa James, Chichester, England
It's supposed to be a happy time yet we end up getting stressed with all the Christmas shopping and the idiots in the supermarkets stocking up with a month's worth of food (as the shops are shut for a whole 2 days!).
If you mean have we forgot about Christmas being a 'Christian' festival I think, yes we have. However, if you mean have we forgotten that Christmas is a time to spend with friends and family then no.
Most of the current Christmas traditions we know stem from an ancient pagan festival of light, much older than the Christian faith which tried to convert it into a Christian festival. So we can't really say the 'true meaning' of Christmas is a Christian one. We put up our lights, light candles, decorate our homes with pagan plants such as holly and mistletoe, we gather together to feast and intoxicate ourselves. It's basically a pagan feast. Much as I support Christian values, we should accept that Christmas started as a pagan festival and is continuing in the same vein.
No, we haven't forgotten the true message of Christmas but it is getting buried beneath an ever-increasing amount of wrapping paper and credit cards slips. No matter what your religious beliefs, can we all look at our relatives, friends and local neighbours this Christmas and ask what we could do to make it just slightly more enjoyable? Maybe a Christmas card or a telephone call to the person who was widowed this year or even a bunch of flowers. Maybe an invite for a glass of sherry on Christmas Eve. It's not the big things that count in this life - just small tiny acts of kindness.
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