The two things are not automatically synonymous, but I am both a religious and a spiritual person. In addition, I believe that God sent his son to save the world by conquering sin and death. I do not believe it happened in December, but there is a lot of tradition that leads to us celebrating it at this time of year and other reasons why doing so totally works for me.
I feel like I need to state those things in advance to provide the proper context for the next thing I am going to say.
I am getting really sick of people talking about "the reason for the season" and "keeping the Christ in Christmas". So sick. So tired.
I know this sounds horrible. Just typing it almost feels like I yelled the F-word in church, but I wold never do that, and I really mean this. People are overdoing it.
I think it might be an outgrowth of the lack of a war on Christmas. The truth is, it's a fairly small amount of the population that can actually feel like Starbucks only changing to a red cup, without it also having a special design, is legitimate Christian victimization.
No, there are just too many obvious signs of the resilience of Christmas, but I think people have gotten to where they feel like they should be beleaguered. I don't know that they actually enjoy it, but it just doesn't feel right without enemies and an oppressive force anymore. I mean, if no one's coming after you, what excuse do you have to not examine your own privilege and aid the downtrodden? Especially at this time of year, when everyone is so busy! Therefore, the new enemy is the secularization of Christmas.
Yes, there are beautiful spiritual aspects of Christmas. Yes, we should remember them. Yes, it is easy to lose sight of them. I will not deny any of those things.
I will make two counterpoints.
One is that it is more important that the spiritual aspects of Christmas are part of our daily life than a seasonal remembrance. If you are carrying your faith and gratitude in your heart throughout the year, it will be part of your Christmas celebrations as well, but the good that it does you will extend far beyond that. The other problem with this attitude is that it throws out many things that are good or at least harmless.
Santa can be fun, but he is being left out of more church Christmas parties. That's fine; you can find Santa other places. Those tend to be expensive places with long lines, that some people might not be able to afford, where his appearance at the party could have been something really helpful, but, you know, too secular.
All of that fun stuff I think is harmless, and perhaps also helpful because fun and recreation is important. It can be a problem in becoming a burden when people put too many expectations and extras into it, but I believe it is fully possible to do that when trying to be extra spiritual too. I know people who do.
Even worse than the loss of some good fun is this need to judge how everyone else is doing it.
You might think that little burst of satisfaction when someone tells you "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" is not a problem, but let's remember some things. First of all, the root of that word is "holy days" - this is not a word that is trying to smother the religious.
"Holidays" is also a word that allows other people to feel included, which feels like a good thing to do.
(Yes, I did write about that a few years ago: http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2009/12/happy-holidays.html)
Christmas might be just revelry to some people. It might even encourage materialism. It also often encourages kindness and generosity and inclusion.
Bringing your sourpuss attitude in and giving the stink eye to others who aren't celebrating it right is remarkably unlikely to make them more spiritual. It is instead the kind of thing that might make even people to whom the reason for the season is very important start to feel a negative connotation with that phrase, hypothetically speaking.
My fellow Christians, I love you. I wish you a beautiful Christmas season that is warming and uplifting. There is just one thing, though, and I can't believe how often this needs to be said:
Quit stinking up the joint. Holier than thou is not supposed to be a goal. Loving people and helping the poor are. I know I just said to quit judging other people for doing Christmas wrong, but seriously, you are doing Christianity wrong.