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Holidays: Religious or Secular?

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Cherri Wheeler
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Chaplain
We have officially entered the holiday season. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are all nationally recognized holidays. You will find them listed on every calendar sold across the land. You can still buy cards, candy, and decorations for them in almost any store. Are these holidays secular or religious?

The answer is a definitive yes! Let's start with Halloween. Many across the land see this as a fun time of dressing up in costume and overindulging on candy. Others see it as religious in nature. Yet, we celebrate it across every military installation. Base housing has designated hours for trick or treating and volunteers of every rank participate in the "Pumpkin Patrol." No one comes out protesting Halloween even though it has religious origins. Over the years it has become a secular holiday that people can choose to participate in or not depending on their beliefs about it.

Thanksgiving is another holiday that has both religious and secular backgrounds. For many across our land Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather, eat too much food, while watching football. Yet, historically the idea surrounding Thanksgiving was religious in nature. Worship services are offered throughout the country in the spirit of those early religious observances, yet others celebrate Thanksgiving watching the Macy's parade and as much football as they can stand. Once again, no one seems to get excited about whether some celebrate Thanksgiving as a religious observance, a secular one, or both. We enjoy the time off and the time with friends and family.

Then comes Christmas, which is also a religious and a secular holiday. Here is where controversy runs rampant. Can federal installations have Christmas trees decorated and lighted during December? Many court rulings have said no, because it appears that government is establishing religion which is against our Constitution. So, many installations, Pope included, for years offered the Holiday Tree lighting. The program was religiously inclusive, secular Christmas songs were sung such as "Frosty the Snowman" and the crowd finished off the celebration with cocoa and cookies. The crowds at this event have shrunk over the years, and I began to ask why.

One reason I believe this decrease has happened is because there is no such thing as a Holiday Tree! We call it a Holiday Tree so we can be inclusive, yet none of the groups we include come to the event. Those who the event is intended for don't come because they are offended by the political correctness ruling it. What makes Christmas different from Halloween and Thanksgiving? Why can we have Haunted Woods and Thanksgiving parades, but we cannot have a Christmas Tree? Have we lost our balance when it comes to religion vs. secular?

I don't see anything changing in the coming years with lawsuits and allegations of preferential treatment; yet it seems Christmas should be treated like the other holidays, let those who tie religious significance to the event do so and for those who don't, they can still enjoy the festivities of the holiday to include families together, gift giving, and lots of great food. Let's call the holiday what it is. I'm passing out candy for Halloween, eating too much food and watching football at Thanksgiving after praying for my many blessings, and I will decorate a Christmas Tree at my house like I do every year and celebrate my faith. I hope you and your family enjoy the holidays, however you choose to celebrate them.