The Interfaith Meaning of Christmas

Kenneth Leong
9 min readDec 24, 2021

This is a festive time of the year. Most people in the US celebrate Christmas, regardless of whether they are Christians or not. It is a time of year-end parties, gift-giving, and family gatherings. It is also a peak period for shopping and consumption of all kinds. Stores typically put up Christmas decorations right after Halloween. While it is considered a jolly time and a time for goodwill and kindness, not everyone looks upon Christmas kindly. In an article titled Peace and Goodwill to Managers, published in the Saturday Review (January 1898), George Bernard Shaw offered the following view:

I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas in these articles. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous, and demoralizing subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred, and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages.

There are some among the Religious Right who think that there is an anti-Christmas conspiracy among the Left and the atheists. As I understand it, Bill O’Reilly told his audience at Fox News in 2004 that there is a “War on Christmas” and that “all over the country, Christmas is taking flak.” But Bill O’Reilly was a history major in college. He should have known better. He should know that the hostility against Christmas did not start with the liberals or atheists. The bashing of Christmas started with the Puritans. A recent article in New England Today tells us that an early law book published in Massachusetts Bay Colony has the following paragraph:

For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accountants as aforesaid, every person so offending shall pay of every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human