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Interfaith Dialogue ( 28 Dec 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Creating Secularism But Losing the Religion

By Shobhan Saxena

Dec 25, 2011

Blame it on the Americans for turning Christmas into "festive season" and "happy holiday season." Blame them for killing the real carols with secular ones such as "White Christmas" and "Jingle bells”. Blame them also for taking Christ out of Christmas and replacing him with Santa Claus who carries a bag full of cards, candies and cakes. It's that time of the year when you can't escape the Santa, baubles, tinsel and the sound of piped carols. And it's also that time of the year when the faithful complain that the real spirit of Christmas has been replaced by "too much commercialisation" and "too much secularism" .

In his first Christmas address in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI called on the world not to shut Christ out of Christmas. "May his birth not finds us busy celebrating Christmas forgetting that he (Jesus) is the very person at the centre of the feast." Earlier, the Pope had criticised the decision by some state schools in Italy not to set up traditional nativity scenes due to fears that they would offend non-Christians amongst the population. "If it is pushed too far, religion becomes almost a consumer product," the Pope said, warning against the dangers of "secularism" and of do it yourself" religion. "Religion constructed on a 'do-it yourself' basis cannot ultimately help us," he said. Since 2006, the Pope has repeated this sermon a few times.

The Pope may see "DIY religion" and secularism as a threat, but for many young Indians it's becoming a way of life. "My friends join me in Christmas party and I celebrate Diwali and Id with them. For us, celebrating the festival together and with our families is more important than following its religious message," says Samantha, 21. "For me, it's more of a family celebration, and that's the way it should be. I am sure Jesus doesn't mind it," says the Chennai student.

It's not just because of consumerism that in urban India, mostly in big cities, different festivals - Christmas, Diwali and Ramzaan - have begun to look similar.

While the puritans complain about Diwali turning into a shopping festival and Ramzaan becoming an excuse for feasting and not fasting, the similarities between the festivals are because of a changing mindset. "I don't celebrate Diwali for any religious reason, but it's a good time to meets friends, exchange gifts and party," says Piyush Kumar, 27, a Gurgaon-based education consultant. "For many of us, our religions don't answer all the questions. So it's good that the festivals become inclusive."

In the past, the festivals were secular. Two of the biggest Hindu festivals, Holi and Diwali, were basically harvest festivals which were given religious colour during the course of history. Similarly, some believe that the Christmas tree and the Easter egg were part of pagan traditions that got co-opted in Christianity. "It's a good thing if there is less religion in festivals. That makes it easier for people to participate in each other's festivals," says Samantha.

Blame it on the Americans or consumerism or DIY, but our festivals are more inclusive and secular today than they ever were.

Source: The Times of India, New Delhi