Well, Christmas is on us again, if we believe it! Every year it seems to start earlier, seem scarier (we just never got when were younger what a mad scramble it is to get all the gifts nor did we know that a fifth of English men buy their presents on Christmas eve in service stations) and to involve less religion. Think about it, could you find a religious advent calendar? Cards with a message mentioning God? A nativity set on sale beside the innumerable Santas?
I do understand that a lot of people celebrate Christmas despite being atheists or Buddhists, or whatever, but it seems to me that the difference between our modern celebration of Christmas and the ancient Roman Saturnalia is becoming increasingly obscured. And do you want my verdict on why this is happening? Yeah, sure you do, it's Christmas, you're rushed off your feet and worrying that the Joneses are going to arrive over from next door any moment now and find that your house (unlike theirs, which has a giant blow-up reindeer on the lawn and a 'jingle-bells' door alarm) looks as though a bomb has hit it--and what you want to think about is spirituality in modern society.
I think that religion is being leached out of Christmas because of the vanilla problem. People are crying out for a spiritual compass in today's hard times but Christianity in particular (though other religious traditions such as Judaism or Buddhism in Japan have the same problem) is just too beige these days. Where once they used to erect large cathedrals filled with some of the best art and music ever composed by mankind, today's Christians worship in white-washed suburban boxes in which they mutter dirge-like hymns. Where's the emotion, excitement and beauty? Well, there's certainly some temporary excitement to be gained in evangelical mega-churches, but we all know that that isn't the same.
Maybe next year we should try to make Jesus as exciting as Santa Claus, if only to make it easier to explain to children whose birthday it is.