Yes, in their world, Christmas is a religious event to honor the origins of their belief. However, in the majority of the world, Christmas is simply the latest manifestation of the winter solstice celebrations that have existed for centuries longer than Christianity. Candles, garlands, trees with lights, mistletoe, feasts and expressions of goodwill were all designed to relieve the terror early civilizations felt when the days became shorter and shorter and night seemed to be taking over. On the winter solstice (usually December 21-22 on the current calendar), the trend is reversed and days begin lengthening. It wasn’t until the 4th century CE, when the winter holiday first became ‘Christian.’
“Many, if not most, celebrated the birth of their god-man near the time of the solstice. Emperor Aurelian (270 to 275 CE) blended a number of Pagan solstice celebrations of the nativity of such god-men/saviors as Appolo, Attis, Baal, Dionysus, Helios, Hercules, Horus, Mithra, Osiris, Perseus, and Theseus into a single festival called the "Birthday of the Unconquered Sun" on December 25. At the time, Mithraism and Christianity were fierce competitors. Aurelian had even declared Mithraism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 274 CE. Christianity won out by becoming the new official religion in the 4th century CE… By the beginning of the 4th century CE, there was intense interest in choosing a day to celebrate Yeshua's birthday. The western church leaders selected December 25 because this was already the date recognized throughout the Roman Empire as the birthday of various Pagan gods. Since there was no central Christian authority at the time, it took centuries before the tradition was universally accepted.” - http://www.religioustolerance.org/winter_solstice.htm
But modern Christian churches conveniently forget history, preferring the role of victim by proclaiming ungodly America has ‘stolen’ their holiday. Whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is now a matter of intense debate and confrontation. Protesters line up outside Wal-Mart, that bastion of commercialism, to protest a company policy that attempts to consider the diversity of beliefs in our country.
The sharing of peace, love, and goodwill has been lost in the shrillness of exclusivity and an assumed superiority of the Christian religion over all others. The righteous claim they are discriminated against because they are not allowed to force society to conform to their chosen beliefs. And, since I do not share those beliefs, I am no longer permitted to celebrate Christmas.
So I have returned to the origins of the season and celebrate the winter solstice. My family will light a tree and share gifts. We will offer greetings of peace, love, and good wishes to anyone we meet without judgment of their belief system. And I would just bet our celebrations will be more real than many others.
Happy Holidays to you all – whatever they may be!
winter solstice ~ 5,000 BCE
Hanukkah ~ 2nd century BCE
Bodhi Day (Rohatsu) ~ 598 BCE
Christmas ~ 4th century CE
Kwanza ~ 1966 CE