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Spirit of sharing at Christmas unites us

Christmas is often seen as the most popular holiday in America, and it’s no surprise. According to Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, and it is widely regarded as America’s favorite holiday.

Christmas began in the Christian religion as a way to mark the birthday of Jesus Christ, but today only about half of people in the U.S. celebrate Christmas for exclusively religious reasons.

As priorities change and more people begin to take part in the festivities, is Christmas still driven by religion? Or has it been adopted as a part of American culture?

“I think it’s mostly cultural, because there are a lot of people that aren’t Catholic that still celebrate Christmas,” said Kenmore West freshman Judy Siwiec, and she couldn’t be more correct. 81 percent of non-Christian Americans from a variety of religions still plan on celebrating Christmas.

Although Judy is Catholic, she says this fact does not bother her, and she celebrates Christmas as both a cultural and religious holiday.

“I think people should be able to enjoy Christmas even if you’re Jewish or Muslim or any other religion,” she said.

Amanda Buettner, another Kenmore West freshman, also supports the idea of non-Christians celebrating Christmas. She said, “I think that’s fine because it’s become such a big thing and it gets people into the spirit of just loving each other.”

But as Christmas becomes a bigger part of American culture, it seems that the motive behind it is drastically changing, as well. Although it may be hard to admit, there is no denying that a major part of Christmas is dedicated to shopping and the exchanging of gifts.

The National Retail Federation’s latest survey states that the average amount of spending per holiday shopper is expected to reach $805, with many people planning to splurge on items for themselves along with gifts for friends and family. Holiday sales in 2015 are predicted to represent almost a fifth of the retail industry’s sales in total. So by adopting it into our culture, have we let our materialistic and money-oriented way of life pollute the real meaning of Christmas?

Amanda believes that the amount of influence exchanging gifts has had on Christmas has affected the holiday’s place in society. “It’s definitely more of a cultural holiday now that it’s so commercialized,” she said. “So much emphasis is put onto the gifts we give each other.”

Kenmore West freshman Tabitha Peterangelo, says that she believes there are many people who have become consumed with the gifting aspect of Christmas. “There are some people who haven’t let that happen, but it’s sad to watch people go around trying to find the perfect gift,” she said.

Although it’s hard to avoid getting excited over the gifts under the tree, there’s proof that Christmas can spark something even more important than holiday sales. A majority of people say that they most look forward to spending time with friends and family during the holidays, and many don’t like how commercialized Christmas has become.

In addition to this, Heifer International says that 79 percent of people say they would rather have a charitable gift given in their name rather than something for themselves.

In 2014, The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign raised over $144 million along with another $25 million in online donations to give help to those who needed it. In the same year, The Toys For Tots program delivered toys to over 7 million less fortunate children. On a more local scale, churches, schools, food banks, and many other community areas step it up during the holiday season and hold fundraisers so that Christmas is experienced by as many people as possible. It’s easy to get involved, and the teens agree that coming together and spreading the joy is a key point during Christmas.

“I love Christmas, and not just because of the presents,” Tabitha said. “Being able to wake up in the morning and see your family happy is really nice.”

Judy says that she and her family bond through music during the holidays. “I always play the violin at church,” she said. “We all get together and practice before, and then on Christmas Eve we have Mass. We play Christmas songs and it’s really fun because I like playing in groups, and it just brings us together.”

So by harnessing the spirit and excitement of the holidays, Christmas can be one of the most significant and fulfilling times of the year. It is a holiday for us all to reflect on ourselves while rejoicing in the love of friends, family, and community, a tradition that can be celebrated by everyone. Maybe accepting Christmas as an American tradition rather than strictly a religious one is not such a bad idea after all.

Judy seemed to put it best: “Everyone comes together even if you’re a different culture or race. Christmas is a great uniting holiday. Plus, I love the cookies.”

Rachel Valente is a freshman at Kenmore West High School.

“I think people should be able to enjoy Christmas even if you’re Jewish or Muslim or any other religion.” – Judy Siwiec, Kenmore West freshman