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Mike Hayes Answers:
Question: My family has always wondered about the case of non-Christians who celebrate Christmas. Over the years, we’ve known many atheists who decorate trees and exchange presents, either “just for fun” or so their kids don’t feel like they’re “missing out.” On one hand, I feel like Jesus would be happy that they’re being loving towards each other no matter what the reason. On the other hand, it’s a little irritating to me. Does the Church have a position on this? And does it matter that they are copying non-religious aspects of the holidays, like Christmas trees and Easter bunnies?
The interesting thing to note is that the rituals surrounding the celebrations of Christmas and Easter that you cite were in fact copied by we Christians!
Secular celebrations surrounding the seasons (winter solstice, etc.) were celebrated by pagans for hundreds of years. On the darkest night of the year for instance, people would place candles into wreaths or trees and pray that the sun would return soon. We baptize that holiday by placing the birth of Jesus around that time (we don’t know the actual date of Jesus’ birth) because it sounds like a good idea to have the Son (sun?) of God come to earth to bring light to all the world.
Springtime brought with it fertility and the symbols we see at Easter of eggs and Easter baskets symbolize that in many ways as well. So the symbols and holidays of rebirth are also now baptized by us in the Easter celebration of the Resurrection.
So it is we Christians who have appropriated these holidays for our purposes and not the other way around historically. So the non-Christians could have a beef with US!
That said, it is important for us to verbalize what it is that we are celebrating when we do so. And so we do. We only have control over what we do — and in truth God only really has the control and He allows people the free will to come to love God on their own terms. So therefore we should do the same.