The Changing Face of Christmas

Op Ed by David Krogh

“Keep Portland Weird” is one of many descriptors for Portland and it is entirely apropos considering the many diverse philosophies and viewpoints evident here. Such viewpoints, for some reason, seem to come out in force heading into the Christmas holiday season.  

Yes, Portland is one of the most secular of large cities in the nation per demographics data and there have been attempts over the years to encourage a reduction in the use of the word “Christmas.” 

What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are evolutionary processes in play. Yes, devout Christians can and do celebrate Christmas as the birthdate of the Christ child. However, many, more people of differing religions and persuasions also celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday according to the renowned PEW Research Center. 

According to their analysis, 90 perent of all Americans, regardless of religion, celebrate Christmas. In addition, approximately 80 percent of the nonreligious also celebrate Christmas, but as a cultural holiday. 

Many people value traditions and cultural values to help them maintain their own cultural and ethnic identities. In essence, many people are not comfortable with the “one size fits all” branding that America as a melting pot often implies. Besides this, traditions and cultural values help people to cope with the many changes occurring beyond their control both in this country and elsewhere.  

Looking at certain aspects of Christmas is important for a better understanding of what is happening here. For instance, Washington, DC has a Capital Christmas Tree, Salem has a State Christmas Tree, but Portland has the “Stinson Lumber Tree.” 

The ads for Portland’s tree lighting ceremony tend to not mention the words “Christmas” or “Holiday.” The avoidance of these words is (you guessed it) “weird.” Surprisingly, if you attend the so-called generic “tree lighting ceremony” at Pioneer Courthouse Square, you will always be exposed to a myriad of Christmas carols and can sing along if you wish, as most do.  

The term “Christmas Bazaar” used to be the norm, especially with churches, but even that is morphing into “Holiday Bazaar” or “Craft Bazaar.” That, too, seems weird, but is still apropos for Portland.  

Christmas is evolving into both a cultural and a secular holiday relevant to all. Let’s face it, shopping, presents, decorated evergreen trees, family dinners, Christmas lights, Santa Claus, eight flying reindeer, snow people, elves and the concept of “peace on earth” are not necessarily religious notions. They are common elements at this time of year. 

In addition, when you couple this with family gatherings, increasing donations for needy causes, the winter solstice (the return of the light) and hopes for the New Year, you end up with a holiday season that most everybody can and does appreciate and celebrate in some way, shape or form. 

Even a local Buddhist temple in SE is sponsoring a holiday craft event this year!

Call it what you will, Christmas is really a time for everyone to enjoy, depending on their own interests and comfort levels. Interpretation may change, but the name doesn’t need to. Here’s wishing all a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday Season and a safe and satisfying New Year!  

Here’s a sampling of area events: Christmas lights and music at The Grotto  • Lights at the Oregon Garden  • Zoo Lights • Christmas Ships on the river • America’s Largest Christmas Bazaar at the Expo Center • Pittock Mansion Christmas • Scanfair at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum • Holiday Ale Festival at Pioneer Courthouse Square • Area tree lighting ceremonies with music • Concerts galore

Enjoy the season!

For a list of Christmas and Holiday events in the area, here are websites with activity lists:,, and 

The Changing Face of Christmas

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