According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, a decreasing number of Americans treat Christmas as a religious holiday. While 90 percent of Americans still celebrate Christmas — a number that hasn’t changed much in the past four years — 33 percent said they celebrate the holiday primarily as a cultural holiday.
Among those surveyed in the poll, many are irreligious or followers of another faith who celebrate Christmas with their predominantly Christian communities and families. Though some secular-minded folks do not explicitly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, many said they still appreciate the season’s spirit of generosity and community fellowship.
“Christmas is about spending time with people you love and being kind to others, regardless of religion. I don't see why secular and non-Christian people would need to opt out,” Johnson City resident Noah Nordstrom said.
Some local Johnson City Press readers weighed in on social media to express their understanding of what Christmas is all about. Some agreed with what Nordstrom had to say, while others joined the 46 percent of people in the Pew poll who said they celebrate Christmas primarily as a religious holiday.
“We celebrate mainly out of tradition but definitely not in conjunction with any religious claim on a pagan holiday,” Beth Tester said of the season’s festivities.
Josh Petty joined the small percentage of Americans who claimed they didn’t celebrate the holiday because of its theological undertones.
“I don't celebrate Christmas because I don't believe in God,” he wrote.
The majority of people throughout the Northeast Tennessee region, however, do still seem to view Christmas as a strictly religious holiday and celebrate it as such.
“I celebrate the birth of my Lord and Savior! He is the reason for the season after all,” Vickie Howell proclaimed.
“We celebrate the birth of Jesus. Of course, we exchange gifts, but the focus is on our Lord,” Marsha Edwards wrote.
“No matter what, we always celebrate at 10:00 pm on Christmas Eve with communion,” Kathy Slagle wrote.
Aaron Murphy, director Good Samaritan Ministries in Johnson City, said he still believes the holiday is primarily about the birth of Jesus Christ, but as a philanthropist and local religious leader, he also believes the holiday is about being charitable — a value that people of all faiths can appreciate.
“The main reason for the season is the birth of Jesus Christ and God giving his son to the world as a gift. With that, in turn, we give gifts to each other to express love and appreciation for each other,” he said.
Good Samaritan Ministries, along with other charity organizations throughout the region, is busy all year round helping thousands struggling with poverty. The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year for Murphy and the volunteers who work for the ministry to help provide locals with food and gifts.
Murphy said serving others is a true indication that a person, whether they’re secular-minded or religious, can get back in touch with the philosophies of Jesus Christ.
“It’s about celebrating the birth of Christ and in turn taking time to give to one another,” Murphy said. “Those who volunteer with us (and other charity organizations), they get it. They want to be a blessing and help other people.”
For Catholic leaders like Father Pete Iorio of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Christmas and the period of Advent is a time of intense religious meditation and reflection on the life of Jesus Christ. For devout Catholics, it is an obligation to go to Mass on Christmas and on Easter. But like Murphy, he agrees that community fellowship is an important part of what Christmas is all about.
“God’s great gift of love is bringing people together. There definitely is that communal aspect of it,” he said. “Sometimes, maybe there can be too much emphasis on the gifts we buy each other without realizing the gift we have of each other.”