The Meaning of Christmas, a Quantitative Analysis

I’ve often heard atheists say that the things people associate with Christmas are mostly secular, and so in a real sense Christmas has stopped being a religious holiday, if it was. But I’ve never seen anyone try to quantify that. Aha! A lacuna that I can fill!

Originally, I was going to google “What Christmas means to me”, see what people come up with, and sort that into “Religious”, “Secular”, and “Mixed” (or “could go either way, depending”). But then What Christmas Means to Me turned out to be a Stevie Wonder song, and I couldn’t be bothered to find the posts that didn’t refer to that song.

1

But what the hell. In the spirit of Christmas, let’s see what Stevie lists, and whether it’s religious:

  Rel Mix Sec
Candles burnin’ low    
Lots of mistletoe    
Lots of snow and ice    
Choirs singin’ carols    
little cards you give me    
runnin’ wild, as anxious as a little child    
Greet you neath the mistletoe    
Wish you a Merry Christmas baby    
happiness in the comin’ year    
deck the halls with holly    
Sing sweet silent night    
Fill the tree with angel hair[1]    
pretty, pretty lights    
Christmas bells are ringin’    

[1] A note says that “angel hair” means tinsel, so I’m counting it as secular.

2

After that, I googled “What I like about Christmas”.

Rozario Fernandes, Express Tribune, 8 Things I Love About Christmas:

  Rel Mix Sec
Listening to Christmas carols    
Fairy lights and pretty decorations    
Buying gifts for your loved ones    
Keeping a secret stash of holiday sweets    
Another reason to stay out late    
Family get-togethers    
Vacation time    
Attending the midnight prayer service    

2.5

Next on the list was a Yahoo! Answers entry, which I didn’t pick because honestly, it’s a discussion thread, so it’s not clear where it ends, or how the entries were chosen.

3

What Do You Like About Christmas by Carey Kinsolving is an explicitly-religious piece, a list of children’s answers to the titular question interspersed with Bible verses. The site was down when I tried accessing it, so I had to rely on Google’s cache. But let’s see how it fares:

  Rel Mix Sec
giving people presents    
celebrating Christmas[2]    
donees’ faces lighting up with joy    
celebrating Christ’s birth    
the lights, because of the light in the sky when Jesus was born    
presents    
spending time with family    
share Christ’s love    

[2] Could be either secular, religious, or a mixture, depending how the person celebrates.

4

Aprille Rose at allwomenstalk writes 7 Things I Love About Christmas:

  Rel Mix Sec
The smells of Christmas[3]    
Seasonal flavors    
Christmas movies and cartoons[3]    
Christmas songs on the radio    
Stringing up lights around the house    
Decorating the tree    
Baking cookies    

[3] All the examples listed are secular.

5

The 25 Greatest Things About Christmas by Belinda Moreira at Arts.Mic:

  Rel Mix Sec
Christmas trees    
Chance of snow    
Lights    
Vacation time    
Hot chocolate    
Ornaments    
Christmas parties    
Ugly Christmas sweaters    
Presents    
Treats    
Stockings    
Snuggling    
Ice skating    
Mistletoe    
Carols and music[3]    
Santa    
Christmas sales    
Eggnog    
Gingerbread houses and men    
Time of giving    
Time with friends and family    
Snowmen    
Classic Christmas movies    
Holiday cheer    
The chance to feel like a kid again    

5.5

I skipped this page at Amazon’s Askville, for the same reasons as the Yahoo! Answers one.

6

Jesse Carey at Relevant Magazine lists 7 Reasons Why We Still Love Christmas:

  Rel Mix Sec
Spending time with friends and family    
opening gifts    
getting away from work    
Celebrating the birth of our Savior    
Inflatable lawn ornaments[4]    
Christmas sweaters    
Claymation specials    
Family Christmas cards    
Advent calendars    
Christmas carols    
Office gift exchanges    

[4] I’m counting this as secular because I have yet to see an inflatable Jesus.

Conclusion

I count 6 religious, 11 mixed, and 56 secular things to love about Christmas. I think we can confidently say that you can give up religion without giving up the things that make Christmas special. Numbers don’t lie.

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