It’s that time of year again. It’s a cozy time for many of us – a time when memories of childhood Christmases filled with love and the warm scent of pine fill our senses. Storefront displays, bright colored lights, and the sounds of the season, both secular and religious, fill us with nostalgia and a sense of being wrapped in loving, protective arms.
It’s also the time we begin to hear and read the cacophonous arguments about what to call this time of year, how “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” and the horrible commercialism of this special holiday. It is most definitely an overly commercialized time of year. It’s been so for a very long time, and as long as shoppers continue to line up to purchase products at the department stores on Thanksgiving, a day once meant for celebrating with family and friends, it will remain so. As long as people insist on purchasing more than they can afford to buy and pile more gifts under the tree than any one family needs, Christmas will continue to be a “commercial” holiday.
As the United States becomes a more pluralist nation, the greeting, “Merry Christmas” becomes less acceptable, and on the flip-side the more appropriate “Happy Holidays” comes under attack by certain factions of Christianity that seem to fear change. These are the people that argue that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Of course, He is not the reason for the season. The reason for the season has to do with climate and the distance of the earth from the sun. This is Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere. This time of year has been celebrated since the beginning of human awareness, as have the Summer Solstice and the equinoxes. It is the Summer Solstice in the southern hemisphere; though Christmas is celebrated at the same time in both places, on December 25, for various reasons. Jesus is the reason for Christmas and a reason for the giving of gifts and the singing of carols, but he is not the reason for this entire season. In fact, as many have argued, Jesus was more likely to have been born at another time of year, and there are Christian denominations that choose not to celebrate Christmas at all.
Of course, we are heading into a time replete with Festivals of Light; Christmas is but one of them. As a Christian, I have come back to my family tradition of calling it Christmas, yet as a Wiccan, I called it “Yule.” When I speak to people I don’t know, I wish them “Happy Holidays.” This is not just a “politically correct” way of speaking at this time of year, it is also the most respectful way to greet others and acknowledge this time of celebration. On the other hand, if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas,” or a “Blessed Yule,” or even a “Happy Hanukkah,” I simply thank them. I am honored that they chose to wish me a good season.
This morning as I walked down the hall in the hospital, I was heading straight toward the gift shop. The window was filled with the trappings of Christmas – decorated fir trees, sparkly lights, ribbons, and bows. I felt that nostalgia for a time and place that I seem to remember out of childhood – or perhaps simply out of time. I remembered the trip I took as a child with my mom and my grandma to Dayton’s Department Store in Minneapolis. The store was decorated with all the trimmings. We took the escalators upstairs, where they had an entire room dedicated to Christmas. A train ran around the top of the walls, felt snow and snow-people stood about giant Christmas Trees. Christmas music played above, and I got to see Santa Claus, assisted by his elves. Remembering this, I was filled with a sense of joy, hope, and expectation. I was reminded that there is more to this time of year than the rampant commercialism, more than the self-righteous religious rhetoric. The symbols, sounds, colors, and smells of Christmas are more than representations of a religious tradition. They have become traditions of western culture. They are secular traditions that can bring people together, if only we could let go of the semantics of our religious differences.
This time of year is a special time for practitioners of almost all religious traditions. Should it not be a time when we see the beautiful Light that is the Hub at the center of the wheel of all religions? Should it not be a time when we who practice religions that claim to center on Love actually practice that Love? For those who do not practice a religious or faith tradition, could it not be a time for respecting and loving one another, just because it’s the right thing to do? Sure, it’s the right thing to do all year long, and we should practice Love each and every day. However, being human, we simply don’t. We need a time of year such as this, to remind us not of what we are, but what we could be.
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