Pope Francis has joined in the debate over the secularization of Christmas, insisting that if Jesus Christ is removed from the holidays, Christmas becomes just an empty feast.
Addressing a group of children who came to the Vatican on Sunday for the blessing of the figures of Jesus for their Nativity scenes, the Pope told them that only a Christ-centered celebration is the “real Christmas.”
After his Angelus prayer on Sunday, the pontiff thanked the children for their “joyful presence” in Saint Peter’s Square, and invited them to pray at home in front of the manger scene with their families, allowing themselves to be attracted “by the tenderness of Jesus child, born poor and fragile among us, to give us his love.”
“This is the real Christmas,” Francis said. “If we take away Jesus, what is left of Christmas? An empty feast.”
With his words, the Pope joined a growing list of people who have expressed their discontent with the secularization of the Christmas holiday.
Last month an Irish priest made news by proposing that Christians should start using a different word to denote the “Christmas” feast, since it has become so thoroughly secularized.
Father Desmond O’Donnell said that Christians should give up the word “Christmas” and replace it with something else, saying that Christmas has been hijacked by “Santa and reindeer.”
“We’ve lost Christmas, just like we lost Easter, and should abandon the word completely,” Father O’Donnell said. “We need to let it go, it’s already been hijacked and we just need to recognise and accept that.”
O’Donnell, who is a registered psychologist and author as well as being a Catholic priest, said that the meaning of Christmas had been taken over and commercialized by secular society.
“I’m just trying to rescue the reality of Christmas for believers by giving up ‘Christmas’ and replacing it with another word,” he said.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that some 55 percent of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, with 56 percent who believe that the religious dimension of Christmas is less emphasized now than it was in the past.
While nine-in-ten Americans intend to celebrate the holiday, about half say they plan to attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Americans continue to debate how best to greet people during the Christmas season, whether with an explicit “Merry Christmas” or a less-religious salutation like “happy holidays.”
About half of the U.S. public (52 percent) says that they don’t have strong feelings as to what sort of holiday greeting is used in shops and businesses, while about a third (32 percent) says they prefer that stores and businesses greet their customers with “Merry Christmas” during the season.
Nonetheless, Americans’ belief in even the miraculous events surrounding Christmas remains remarkably high.
Pew reports that more than half of Americans still believe in the essential elements of the Nativity story surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, with a full 66 percent of U.S. adults affirming that Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that the three magi were guided by a star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus, while 67 percent believe that an angel of the Lord announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds and that the newborn infant Jesus was laid in a manger.
An absolute majority of Americans—57 percent—believe in the full biblical account of Jesus’ birth, with all of the elements related by Saints Luke and Matthew in their gospel narratives, Pew found.
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