Xmas is a celebration of what is guessed to be the approximate birth date of Jesus Christ. It is an important occasion in almost all civilised societies for both Christians and Non-Christians alike.
In Australia the number of people who describe themselves as Christians has fallen from 71% of the population to only 64% in the 10 years to 2006. I have been a non-believer for my entire adult life so I am gradually acquiring more companions. As Kevin Rudd said recently, Christianity faces the prospect of being a minority belief - part of the 'counter-culture' - in Australian society. But Christianity remains by-in-large an important positive force in our society and Xmas remain important to many of us - both the secular and the religious.
I lack empathy with multi-culturalists and those from other religions who see the widespread respect paid to Xmas as something offensive to atheists and non-Christians. Given my early Christian upbringing I still feel comfortable celebrating the message of hope, forgiveness, friendship and kindness that Xmas brings to us. I have a long-standing respect for the values that the man Jesus Christ espoused. Most of all, the birth of a baby indicates the hoped-for possibility of living in a better world. The materialism associated with Xmas does make me reflect - but most of us enjoy giving and receiving gifts. One can be too puritanical about such matters. Most of us enjoy some of the incidentals of Christmas - carols being sung, food and wine being imbibed and homes being brightly decorated. At the very least these are a valued part of our cultural traditions.
The idea of hope associated with Xmas and the belief that the world can be a better place because of the birth of a boy is a beautiful parable. I do not believe that to appreciate the beauty of this notion that one, in fact, needs to accept the idea that the young boy is the 'son of God' or our 'saviour'. It is enough to think about our prospects for renewal and for trying to live a life that reflects Christian values of kindness and forgiveness even if not of Christian theology.
No religion - Christianity included - should ever be seen as having the last word on anything. One of the great advantages of living in Australia is its openness and the freedom of choice it offers with respect to religion. But the wisdom of many religions, freed from their bigotry, can guide us towards living happier, more fulfilled lives. Whether you are thinking about what job you should take, what partner you should live with or how you should deal with the neighbours and with outsiders, the message of Christianity has something to teach us all. God might be irrelevant in all this - we are after all human beings - but the core message of Christians and the hope of Xmas is not.