The Nightmare Before Christmas
Every year, it seems, we move a little further from 'Merry Christmas', and a little closer to a washed out, politically correct nightmare of 'Happy Holidays' in an effort to appease those of us who find the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ deeply offensive. Every year I become a little more baffled at this phenomenon.
I'm not religious. My family isn't religious. When I was a kid we occasionally attended the local Church of England Sunday service - not to worship, but because that was what middle-class respectable British Anglo-Saxons did. We'd dress in our Sunday best, grab a handful of Mr Men books and make the short drive to the church, where an old vicar with a limp handshake would lecture to us on values before reciting the Lord's Prayer. Meanwhile, my brothers and I would wriggle in the pews and read about the adventures of Mr Strong and Little Miss Whatever.
We stopped going many years ago - I forget when exactly. Since then I've occasionally flirted with religion. I attended Mass with an American friend about 5 years ago and took on a sort of low-level belief - I belong to the 'probably not, but just maybe' school of thought. I figure, what's the harm?
Despite my lack of religious conviction, it upsets me to see the traditional meaning of Christmas die. It upsets me that we should feel that there's something insulting about wishing a Muslim or a Jew Merry Christmas. Really, is anyone so sensitive that they would be offended by those two words?
I'm not offended when a Jew wishes my 'Happy Chanukah', or when he celebrates Yom Kippur, Tu b'Shvat and observes the Fast of Esther. If my local school offers Matzah balls in the canteen during Passover, who am I to complain? Nor do I feel marginalised when a Muslim fasts during Ramadan or wishes me 'Eid Mubarak' at the end of his fast. If I'm not offended by the traditions of other religions, why on Earth would I believe that Isaac or Ishmael would be offended by the traditions of mine?
Christmas is snow on the ground and a home that smells like gingerbread and a tree that takes your breath away. It's little girls in blood red dresses trimmed with white lace and little boys barely breathing in tightened bowties and buttoned dress shirts. It's Silent Night playing softly in the background, and garland hanging from the ceiling beams and platters of cookies pile high on the counter, waiting for the colored sugar frosting. It's aunts and uncles and laughter and everyone loving their gifts, all smiles and appreciative kisses and hugs. It's a warm, cozy day that ends with the little children shuffling off to bed, the plastic bottoms of their feetie pajamas scraping against the polished wood floor and the clutch their brand new dolls and trucks and sleep with them because they were that good of a present. The children dream of elves and reindeer and the parents sip late night drinks and stare at the tree and sigh.
It's also watching the kids fluff their lines at the nativity play; midnight mass the night before Christmas; carol singers at the door and God bless us, everyone - whether you believe in Him or not. Do we really want to lose that?
Elsewhere - Joe has several interesting comments from the Jewish perspective.