I like Christmas. I do not celebrate Christmas, but I like it.
I like the ambiance and attitude; people seem happier and nicer (as long as you stay away from the mall). I like the Christmas lights and I love those folks who put their heart, soul, and electric bill into decorating their houses. I really like Christmas cookies and appreciate them in all their diversity.
For obvious reasons, we do not have a Christmas tree, but I thoroughly like visiting my friends’ homes who do have one. It is clear that many families spend meaningful and enjoyable time together decorating that tree for the season.
I like most of the Christmas music, though not so much the lyrics, because I am really not familiar with much of them. Not growing up with Christmas carols, many of the words confused me. For example, I was a teen before I realized that “parumph-a-pum-pum” was not Latin. Upon this discovery, a lot of the meaning of “Little Drummer Boy” became easier to grasp.
I was always confused by, and, well, a little embarrassed when I heard people sing about the “round young virgin.” First, I wondered how that got past the censors. Second, I thought it was making fun of a pregnant woman, which didn’t seem seasonally appropriate. After it became clear to me that it wasn’t a commentary on her condition, I thought it was, unintentionally, quite the commentary about how our societal notions of beauty have changed, but that is another story for another time.
But overall, watching people hum and sing along, seeing carolers out in the neighborhood, and having the opportunity and privilege to see other cultures put on their version of the Christmas parade has been and continues to be both enjoyable and engaging.
My little village is Christmas personified. Just after Thanksgiving, the wreaths and Christmas trees go up on the two major thoroughfares. Small, white Christmas lights follow, providing a festive nighttime atmosphere. At the intersection of those two main streets, a massive fir tree is decorated to the nines. And the huge banner for the annual “Christmas Candlelight Walking Tour” dominates this piece of public property.
The local paper is always full of articles about Christmas, charity, good deeds and events, including church plays, kids’ concerts, and other Christmas related goings on. Our paper has a pastor as a regular opinion page contributor whose December pieces tend to be Christmas season related.
At the key intersection in the village you will find a church on each corner – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and United Church. For reasons hidden in history, the Lutherans are two blocks away to the west, the Catholics about half mile out of town to the east, and past the Catholic are Baptists, the Latter-Day Saints, and the Jehovah Witnesses. As my father said, our village is “well-churched.” And each one is decorated to a fare-thee-well and each with a, seasonally appropriate message on display and a tagline of ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’ They are beautiful. Their membership obviously cares and wants to recognize the holiday for what it is.
Now then, we are not so rural and removed that we don’t share in some of the controversies that have occurred in our country. Last year, the sponsors of the Candlelight Walking Tour proposed dropping the word “Christmas” from the marketing materials and you could hear the howls of protest and indignation from a very vocal few all the way to Village Hall. The accusation was that “Christmas” was being dropped because it was politically correct, and the sponsor was ‘de-Christianizing’ the event.
All of this despite the fact that even the non-Christians like me recognized that this was a Christmas event. Hard to miss, I think, given the timing in December, the Christmas lights and Christmas trees put up by Village, the Church decorations, the fact that 98% of the Village population is at least nominally Christian, and I would guess that close to 50% of homes are decorated with Christmas lights and Christmas trees in the windows. Regardless, the protest got ugly.
The old marketer in me thinks the word was dropped to enable fewer words and larger print because I cannot imagine anyone not understanding that this was a Christmas event. However, it looked like another opportunity for some to believe that others were trying to take the religious aspects out of the holiday for ‘liberal’ purposes. The sponsor capitulated and we are back to the ‘Christmas Candlelight Walking Tour.’ Catastrophe and civil unrest avoided.
I have no problem saying Merry Christmas to my friends, colleagues, and other fellow humans because it is a nice thing to say and I generally want folks to have a good time. I take no offense, in fact quite the opposite, when someone says ‘Merry Christmas’ to me – I take it in the spirit intended. I agree that I will probably say ‘Happy Holidays’ to someone I know is not Christian because they are for example, Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or because they are someone obviously not Christian, i.e., they are dressed as Hasidic, or have a turban. But that is my attempt to make them comfortable, not to try to ignore or obviate Christmas.
I think the accusation of ‘trying to take the Christ out of Christmas” is a red herring. Yeah, the far-left liberals don’t want to offend anyone (except people who disagree with them), so they tend to secularize their language. And yeah, the far religious right is looking for any excuse to remind the rest of us that they are Christians. But the reality is that the rest of us (and really, all of us) know that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus and hope that everyone who has that belief can celebrate in the manner in which they see fit and those who do not have that belief can enjoy and enjoin with the celebrants in their happiness.
Jesus was Jewish and his teachings incorporated ancient Jewish values. In the first century before the common era, Hillel said, “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.” A century later Jesus was described as a man who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). and is described as ‘”kind, patient, and tolerant because he came, not to judge people, but to heal them spiritually. Love was his primary motivation.” (John 3:17; 13:34).
Sound similar? It should. We are in this together, share similar values, no matter what deity (or not) we pay attention to. Be kind to your neighbor.
Have a very, Merry Christmas and joyous and healthy New Year.