It’s hard for many to imagine not celebrating one of the most beloved holidays in the world. But is the holiday really under threat?
Some sensationalists fear there’s a religious and political war being waged on Christmas. Christmas has deep roots in Christian doctrine, going as far back as 350 A.D. when Pope Julius I declared December 25 the official anniversary of Jesus’ birth. Churches and homes around the world have gathered in prayer, song and ritual for hundreds of years.
However, many Christians today fear that certain cultures have become intolerant toward the religion and its practices. Atheists are growing in number around the world. Members of our increasingly secular society often suggest that religion should be a private choice, not a public position. Many also maintain that religion has no place in any level of government.
As a result, Christmas is being recognized less as the birthday of Jesus Christ and more as a secular holiday of gift-giving, food and time with loved ones. The greeting “Merry Christmas” is being replaced with “Happy Holidays” for respect of the multiple cultures that don’t recognize the Christian holiday.
It’s natural to assume that countries with theological or secular governments would not celebrate Christmas in any way. It’s harder to believe that some of these countries have banned the holiday altogether. Major countries in history and in the present day have banned Christmas entirely, or at least its practices, forcing Christians to celebrate in relative secrecy. For some other countries, celebrating the holiday is allowed, but regarded as taboo…
10. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is known for abiding by strict Islamic laws that are very clear on what citizens can and cannot do. This is true especially for religious practices. Only a small portion of the country is made up of Christians, most of which are American ex-pats. Still, the country still bans Christmas – and Christmas trees – as a celebration of the birth of Jesus.
However, that doesn’t stop many who choose to defy authority. In 2013, Saudi Arabia detained more than forty people for “plotting to celebrate Christmas.” Not only can people be fined for observing the holiday, they can also be put behind bars.
Since at least 2013, Somalia has placed a nation-wide ban on the celebration of Christmas. The order came from a release by the Ministry of Justice and Religious Affairs just before Christmas Day. The country is predominantly Muslim and, as Sheikh Ali Dhere said during a press conference, Christian celebrations are “prohibited in this country.”
He also said that all applicable law agencies and enforcers are instructed to stop any and all celebrations of Christmas. Christians who wish to celebrate can choose to willfully disobey the prohibition in public at their own risk, or practice in secret.
8. North Korea
North Korea is a strict dictatorship wherein its citizens are ruled over by a state-appointed leader. Not only is Christmas effectively banned, all religious practices not approved by the state can be punishable under law.
However, Christians in South Korea received approval from the federal government to erect a giant Christmas tree two miles from the border, reportedly to “annoy” North Korea. Kim Jong Un threatened to fire shells if the North Korean government did not take the tree down.
Albania is a predominantly atheist country from a legislative standpoint. In 1967, an official religious ban came into effect. Christmas was considered a religious activity and was not allowed to be celebrated within the nation’s borders.
Although Christmas is not technically banned in Japan, it’s certainly not recognized as an official holiday. Christianity is not the dominant faith of Japan, so politicians and government officials don’t feel the need to honour Christmas in any big way.
Christmas and Christianity itself is banned in communist-ruled China. But that doesn’t stop Chinese citizens from adapting the holiday in unique ways. As a holiday, Christmas is treated more like St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day in contrast to the day’s major status in Western countries.
Religious practices as a whole are tightly regulated by the government. Many Chinese do celebrate the festive season, but they do so while facing serious restrictions by the government. For example, caroling is not allowed.
On December 20, 1998, Cuba finally lifted its 30-year ban on Christmas. When Fidel Castro took over Cuba as a communist, atheist country, religious observances and celebrations were simply not allowed.
Castro placed a nation-wide ban on Christmas as a public holiday and stated that everyone needed to work on the sugar harvest at that time instead. Soon after the ban, Christians throughout the country immediately bought trees and decorations in stores offering 30% discounts.
Nowadays, Germany is renowned for its beautiful Christmas markets and unashamed, decorative commercialisation of the season.
Yet, shockingly, multiple cities in Germany – including Solingen and Berlin – once banned Christmas. Berlin’s Kreuzberg did away with celebrations of the holiday in public places. It was only allowed in the private homes of citizens. City officials believed that Christmas was predominately a religious celebration and, due to the secular nature of the Greens political party, religious celebrations had no place in public places like city streets.
2. Great Britain
Great Britain was heavily influenced by political leader Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s. As a Puritan, Cromwell hated Christmas on religious grounds and banned the holiday throughout the country. But not entirely.
Cromwell was in favour of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but refused to acknowledge the concurrent indulgence in food, alcohol and even decorations. However, Cromwell was somewhat of a hypocrite. He privately enjoyed music, hunting and other recreational activities – even during Christmas.
1. The United States
The Puritans in colonial America during the mid-1600s had a bone to pick with Christmas. The General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law that stated anyone “caught” celebrating Christmas would be fined.
According to the Puritans, there was no Biblical reason for celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25. They held that Christmas was actually a Pagan celebration and the modern practice of celebrating on this day came from Rome.
The ban was eventually revoked in 1689, but Christmas wasn’t officially recognized in Massachusetts until 1869. At this time, students were threatened with expulsions if they left school to celebrate the holiday.