Christmas: what it means to those who celebrate

Photo by: Jensen Stephenson
Ainsley Stephenson meets the conductor
while on the Polar Express
ride in Raleigh, NC.

Jensen Stephenson 
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The season of red and green ornaments, twinkling lights, and Santa is fastly approaching all participants this time of year. Many participants have their own traditions they partake in, while others stick to the religious aspect of the holiday. 
UNC Asheville junior Emily Warren takes part in many organizations on campus, but most notably is a youth leader for the YoungLife Christian organization better known as WyldLife among Asheville residents. She is among the many Christmas season participants. 
I typically spend Christmas at home with my parents. I tend to go to a Christmas Eve service at church as well as the Christmas day service at my church. One thing that might seem a little odd is that I bake a birthday cake for Jesus every year just for fun. We also decorate the tree as a family and get matching pajamas to wear,” said Warren.
Chair and professor of Religious Studies Rodger Payne is a native of Western North Carolina. Payne received a B.A. at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, an M.A. from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, as well as Ph.D. Payne has spent 30 years of teaching, serving on the faculty at Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Virginia and Louisiana State University, where he chaired the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. 
“As a scholar of religion, I think that most people, particularly here in the U.S. would benefit by learning more about the religious ideas and practices of a wide variety of religions. We are, unfortunately, largely illiterate people when it comes to religions despite the fact that we live in one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world,” said Payne. 
Upon Payne’s arrival to UNCA, he became the first faculty member of the Department of Religious Studies. 
“It is a Christian Holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus, but only in the Gregorian Calendar used by Roman Catholics and most Protestants. Orthodox Christians commemorate the birth on Jan. 7, according to the Julian Calendar.  Both days are based on liturgical and political rather than historical reasons. We have no idea on which day Jesus was born, but the Romans celebrated the birthday of the sun around Dec. 25th, so it is likely that the date was chosen for that reason.  It is probably fair to say that “billions celebrated” the day as at least a cultural holiday rather than a specifically religious one — it is a major holiday in Japan where there are very few Christians,” said Payne. 
Professor of History and Religious Studies Grant Hardy, received a B.A. at Brigham Young University, and a P.h.D at Yale University. Hardy has been teaching at UNCA for 25-years. Hardy’s knowledge of Christmas comes from both a personal religious background, as well as a scholarly background. 
“It is obviously a Christian holiday, so the people who celebrate it are most Christians. I would say there are a couple billion around the world, and about half of them are Catholic. For Christians the importance of Christmas is that it is a religious holiday. While there are more important holidays like Easter, which is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus,” said Hardy. 
Hardy said Christmas is a holiday widely celebrated for both the religious community, and the not so religious community. 
“For people who aren’t Christian it is a civil holiday. It’s fun to buy presents, eat all the goodies, and go to parties. The aspect of family traditions and gift giving are all so fun for anyone and everyone. Though, it’s also a time to relax and spend time with family,” said Hardy. 
Warren said she agrees more with Hardy’s statement.
“Other than presents, something I enjoy is being able to spend quality time with my family and closest friends. Since I left for college, I don’t get to do this a ton so it means a lot to me that I get  to spend it with them. The main reason I celebrate the holiday which is to celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus,” Warren said. 
Being one of the most widely celebrated holidays has a lot to live up to, and its important to remember the meaning behind the holiday. 
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration  among billions of people around the world.
“I honestly wish people would just see and celebrate it for what it is. Many parents teach it to kids as just Santa brings gifts if you behave, but it is so much more than this. I think people should be more grateful for what they have on this day instead of demanding what they don’t have. I always try to give back during this holiday with lots of volunteering and giving to those who don’t have everything I do. Many people see it as a cultural holiday they have to celebrate, instead of a religious and Christian holiday,”said Warren.