For anyone who has grown up in a culturally-Christian country, it can be a bizarre experience to be in a majority non-Christian country on December 25th. It is Christmas, but it isn’t. During one of my first years in Thailand, a Buddhist majority nation, I remember sitting through a school pep rally on Christmas Day at the government college where I was teaching English. It wasn’t about Christmas. It was just rah-rah-go-team-our-school-is-great. It was just a normal day for everyone. Students went to classes. Teachers taught. Everybody went to work. No mention of Christ, or even Santa Claus, although at the end of the pep rally parade there was an odd non-sequitur effigy of Uncle Sam hanging from gallows with IMF written on his chest. I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with the rest of the parade.
Meanwhile, in the United States, it would have been looking a lot like Christmas, or least the Western celebration of it. Carols. Tinsel. Presents. Big sales in the stores. Everyone asking what everyone else was doing for the holiday. Schools and businesses closed, and people traveling to see family. Snow, or at least images of snow. Regardless of whether people are committed Christians or just enjoying a secular holiday of family, food, and gifts, those are the kinds of things that many Westerners think of when they are getting in the “Christmas spirit” or say that it is beginning to look like Christmas.