"Christmas Christians" and Reasons to Go to Church

a church in July—I wonder what their
attendance is then? (my photo)
Christmas has me reflecting on all the church services around the world that must be happening, with millions and millions of people in attendance. It's amazing to think that, even though some Christians recognize Christmas on different dates, December 24th and 25th must be two of humanity's most celebrated days—maybe the most celebrated.

Of the millions of people attending services this Christmas, many have undoubtedly gone to church infrequently over the past several months. Maybe the Christmas service will even be their only one this year. The Wikipedia article Lapsed Catholic lists a number of amusing terms for such people:

I know it's not just Catholics who do this. Many Protestants and other Christians only come to church a few times a year, too, and we may well call them all "Christmas Christians," in recognition of the season.

Despite sharing a focus on a few special dates in the calendar, Christmas Christians certainly don't all have similar beliefs or reasons to go to church when they do: Many must be fervent believers in Christianity, but have a variety of reasons they avoid church—whether it's discomfort with the environment, conflict with the congregation, or perhaps the busyness of the rest of their lives and the ease of skipping an obligation like weekly church attendance. Other Christmas Christians must have doubts about their beliefs, or even disagree in some ways with their church, but find occasions like Christmas important for reconnecting with their faith and church community. (If you're a "Christmas Christian" yourself, please leave a comment with your story!)

Some other Christmas church-goers are not Christians at all—that is, they've stopped believing in Christianity, but continue to attend church sometimes. For a few years of my life, from my last years in high school to my first years in college, I was one of these people.

Here were my reasons to be a Christmas church-goer, even as a non-believer:
  1. Family: My relationship with my mother and other family members led me to see church-going on special occasions as a nice thing to do, for their sake. Or, perhaps, I saw missing special church events as an unnecessarily hurtful thing to do—not worth the conflict it might create. I expect there are many people from Christian families around the world in similar situations, especially teenagers and young adults.
  2. Music: I legitimately love to sing hymns. I still do, even though I never get the chance to do so. I was raised on the hymnbook of United Methodist Church, and still keep a copy on my bookshelf. My wife was raised on praise music in the Catholic Church, and still loves that music too. It's no surprise we do, given that all these songs were designed to be catchy and appealing, whether written by the latest Christian rocker or Charles Wesley 200 years ago.
  3. Food: One of my favorite and most significant taste-memories of childhood is the taste of bread and grape juice. (Yes, the UMC uses grape juice in communion, and Welch's got its start in the church.) I've even tried to replicate the taste at home, but it's not the same. Besides that brief but yummy taste of communion, my church regularly had other treats on offer after a service, and I'm sure larger congregations put out even more appetizing spreads.
me in 2011 at my last Christmas service
Of these three reasons to go to church—even as a non-believer—only two of them still exist for me today. After my few years being a Christmas church-goer and not being fully open about my lack of religion, I finally came out as an atheist to my mother and stopped going to church altogether. I still might miss music or food from my childhood in church, but relieving those memories certainly isn't worth making a dishonest claim of being a believer. Once I was fully honest with my family, I felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. While it's interesting to consider the millions of people who do, I don't think about going to church anymore—even on Christmas.

Note: I do not share these personal thoughts in order to disrespect anyone's beliefs or religious practices. Instead, I'd love to have some thoughtful conversations about reasons people go to church, whether you attend regularly, infrequently, or never plan to again. Please leave a comment!