From the brightly lit festive streets to the self-service checkouts in Tesco (‘Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas!’) and the constant stream of Christmas ads on TV to the soundtrack in the Hidden cafe, Christmas is unavoidable. Undoubtedly becoming less about the Christian faith and more of a consumerist season, The Gryphon looks at Christmas in its many forms from the perspective of students with other faiths.
Christmas has become a national holiday in Britain – and no matter what your beliefs, you are immersed in festive spirit from as early as the end of October. According to the Evangelical Alliance, ninety percent of British families put up a Christmas tree in 2014, despite only fifty-nine percent of British families identifying as Christian in the 2011 census. Clearly, Christmas festivities and celebrations are no longer limited to those who believe in Jesus.
The Gryphon spoke to Jordan Grabski, a third-year French and Spanish student and a self-proclaimed ‘Christmas Jew’:
“Christmas for me, as a Jew, isn’t about celebrating the birth of Christ but just as a time for family and good food. And if anyone knows how to do food it’s the Jews! I love Christmas and would describe myself as a ‘Christmas Jew’. My mum’s birthday is Christmas Eve, and we have big family gatherings for both Christmas day and Boxing Day so the Christmas period is a big celebration for us. We always get presents on Christmas and we even used to leave a mince pie for Santa Claus!”
For others, Christmas has become an ingrained and essential part of British, and indeed Western, culture – regardless of its religious roots. The Gryphon spoke to Ahmed, a third-year mechanical engineering student, who comes from Tunisia, on the matter:
“When I came to the UK I knew that it was a country with Christianity as the religion, and not laïque like France. Therefore I expected that Christian tradition would be heavily present. It was something I was looking forward to, in order to understand and live according to a new culture and therefore fully embracing the experience of being abroad. In fact since moving to the UK I have been celebrating Christmas, the commercial and gathering side, as I’ve noticed that the religious one wasn’t that big anymore – something that I didn’t do back home.
I believe the UK is understanding and respectful of every religion, as I never feel isolated. However, being in a host country with a different belief system is different: I would only celebrate my own religious celebrations with my home community, as I believe that is the way it should be.”
That being said, some establishments are starting to turn away from the notion that Christmas is universal – the University of Sheffield’s Diamond library is remaining open, though unstaffed, for the full 24 hours on Christmas day, in a move that seeks to recognise that not all students will be celebrating Christmas. With our own university services remaining closed from Christmas Eve until the New Year, it is arguable that the University is failing to account for the large number of the multicultural and diverse student population who do not celebrate the holiday.
However, it is of course a period of time off from university hours whether you use it to celebrate Christmas or not, so the University is within its rights to expect that many students will not be on campus.
On that note, Jordan adds that:
“Christmas at uni is great, I love the big tree. But if of course you are more observant than myself there is a big Menorah outside the Union for those wishing to celebrate. LUU really does embrace multiculturalism, which is great!”
The University does also provide support and information for those staying in Leeds over the Christmas break.
Ultimately, though it can sometimes feel like Christmas is being stuffed down our throats, it appears that everyone can and does appreciate the joy the festivities can hold. How and what you choose to celebrate is a personal decision, and much depends on circumstance, but many are embracing – or at least putting up with – the ever-playing Christmas playlist and the incessant twinkling of lights.
If you’re still in Leeds over Christmas and looking for something to do, see: http://help.leeds.ac.uk/christmas.html