Elena Lunz and Lilian Kurz, PIRON Global Development
How can Christians celebrate Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic? This question is subject to intensive debates in Christian-majority countries. The Christmas season is an important season in many countries with traditions, such as Christmas markets, choir singing events and crowded church services for the whole family. There is a variety of opinions in the lively debate on the appropriate level of restrictions during these important national holidays in many countries. In Germany, where we are based, around 70 percent of the population approve the modest relaxation of contact restrictions during the Christmas holidays. Critics call the relaxation of regulations irrational and reflecting a “political Christianity”. However, proclaiming political Christianity in a country such as Germany, which since years registers declining numbers of church memberships and churchgoers, falls a bit short of understanding the role of Christmas in society.
Rather, the widespread desire to celebrate Christmas in a familiar way reflects the societal and individual need for community and family, solemnity, rest and contemplation. Performing well-known rituals helps structuring a socially monotonous year.
Religion, may it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or other forms of socially organized spirituality, provides the frame for important societal values to flourish. Religious festivities are an occasion to celebrate, to come together with family and friends, and to share joy. We can enjoy special moments that punctuate with everyday life. This is true for believers and for those who do not affiliate with a religion. One value – shared by all major religions as well as humanism – stands out: the golden rule: treating others the same way one wants to be treated. This value is lived out most profoundly during the Christmas season in many Christian-majority countries. It brings with it solidarity, empathy and caring for the most vulnerable of society. This is why the Christmas season is also known as “donation season”, accounting for about 20 percent of the annual contributions to non-profit organizations.
The golden rule, and the solidarity it encourages, are much needed societal values to get through this pandemic in a humane way. Regulations on physical distancing cannot be fully enforced by state authorities but rely on individual choices for collective good. Solidarity with those who are suffering most from the pandemic should be a core value in our work and our societies. Being sincerely interested in the well-being of others is also a foundational value for solving other global crises such as the climate emergency or ending poverty. Religions and the societal values they cultivate are an essential asset in facing global crises and challenges together as a human family.