Is it just me, or is there a bit more normalcy this year than last as far as Christmas goes? It seems so, at any rate. Ad agencies seem to have moved past their jitters for the most part: somewhere in the text or narration there is usually a Merry Christmas included, and I’ve seen several TV ads that feature crosses in the jewelry sales, right along with everything else. The school concerts around here were called Christmas concerts, and nobody seems to have had a heart attack over it. It seems even headline writers at some news agencies have picked up on it, after a fashion. For instance, I saw a headline a few days ago that called the signing of some sports star to some team “an early Christmas present” for the fans. Imagine that. A Christmas present instead of a holiday present. Right there in print. From a news agency. It’s pathetic, I know, that we’ve been reduced to noticing such things and hoping they augur something, some lessening of hostility, some reduction of a virulent fever or the falling away of mass madness. But there it is.

On the other hand, like any bullies I think the folks who go into temper tantrums at the mention of the phrase “Merry Christmas” or city decorations that showcase angels or Santa Claus instead of merely snowflakes or snowmen – like any bullies I think they like to make people angry. They feed off the reactions they get. And so this year I’m not giving them the satisfaction, if I can help it. I am going about my business as if they don’t exist. If we bump into each other and they take a swing at me, that’s different. I will defend myself – although perhaps not in the angry way they might like to see. (I don’t subscribe to the silly notion that religious people are supposed to wander around saying, “Peace, Dude, Yeah, right, whatever floats your boat, don’t mind me, I’m busy being nice and can’t be bothered with, like, you know, standing up for anything or actually having principles, because, you know, like, can’t we all just get along?” Neither do I let my enemies choose where and when and how I fight back. Heh.)

But sans being mugged I will proceed to wish one and all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year without blinking, without undue emphasis, without a chip on my shoulder, and as if I assume that everyone on the planet is capable of accepting greetings of good cheer in whatever terminology.

I believe that everyone is capable of that, by the way. I think the grinches choose to be that way. I think they can choose to stop being grinches, too.

I grew up in a community that had many Buddhists and I can’t remember any of them making spectacles of themselves when somebody wished them a Merry Christmas. I seem to remember some of them wishing me Merry Christmas right back, in fact.

Perhaps that was because Christmas was no more religiously significant to me than it was for them so we were being mutually secular about it, but I don’t think so. I think they were just nice people and friendly neighbors, who knew how to celebrate Christmas in their own way without being distressed by those of us not walking the same path.

When I was a child, my family went whole hog on Christmas. We put up stockings. We bought and wrapped gifts. Lots of gifts. We decorated the house. We had a feast. We put up a tree. We decorated that tree to beat the band, every year trying to do better than the year before. We’d put a star or an angel on top of the tree. We had little angels we hung on the tree, and Santas, too. Some years there was a small creche on the fireplace hearth. And every year, if I seemed interested in what the angels or the creche meant, my mother gave me one of her infamous lectures on how people used to believe in stuff like that but we knew better these days. These ornaments were just for fun, like the flying reindeer ornaments we also had. They were just traditional, and tradition was good as long as you knew it was only tradition. Angels and Santa and Jesus and Mary and Joseph and The Three Wise Men were just representations of fairy tales that had been found to be just stories, stories that some people still bought into, but only if they were taught the old superstitions by unscrupulous church leaders who used the fairy tales to hold onto power and make people follow them around like sheep.

Uh, huh. You read that right. My mother used Christmas as a teaching moment for her atheism, which she thought was going to free mankind to finally achieve its full potential. (I beg to differ these days.) But I never saw her attack Christmas as a holiday, or make a stink in public, or tell anybody else how to celebrate the day. She’d bundle me up and let me go caroling house to house with friends who were doing it as a church group, and wish us all a good time. To her, of course, it was only singing and spending time with friends. The songs didn’t mean anything. And when I got back from my lovely time, if there was any sign that any of that ‘awful mind-numbing religion’ had tried to rub off on me, she’d give me the full treatment on how it was so sad that some people were that credulous and actually wasted their time believing in that stuff. Another teaching moment, neatly utilized.

Christmas in our house was a way of showing how nice and generous people could be without religion. It was “proof” that nobody needed a God.

While I think she was right about individuals being able to “be nice” without religious observation, Mother fought a losing battle on the religion-as-superstition front. Somewhere along the way I figured out that the religion she hated wasn’t what religion really was, and that ended that. I mean, when what you’ve been taught is to bow to reality, and you find God is real…

Well, at any rate, I do think some people have either grown tired of the Christmas battles or have decided such battles are counterproductive. And thank goodness. I was tired of all the noise and mindless lashing out. I am glad to see it subsiding. My heartfelt thanks to anyone out there who has decided to be neighborly instead of confrontational this holiday season.

On the other hand, if you do run across atheists and other non-Christians who don’t have the courage of their convictions and therefore go nuclear to find themselves sharing the planet with people who like to spread some joy at Christmas, may I suggest a niceness offensive first (for instance, invite them to join in the fun instead of standing on the outside looking in, if they feel like outsiders looking in), and then an email to the Alliance Defense Fund if that doesn’t work? ADF provides free legal help to people who find their religious freedoms being trampled.

This may come as a surprise to you, but the law is actually on the side of Christmas celebrations, even in schools and other public buildings. The ACLU doesn’t win many actual skirmishes on this front, except by intimidation. Once they get into court, in other words, they usually get trounced, or so I understand. There are some rules and boundaries to observances on public property and with captive audiences of young folks rounded up for educational purposes (as well there should be), but they’re pretty easy to follow. You can find out about them from ADF or other places that have people who specialize in religious freedom laws, and they are also covered in John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas. Gibson’s book, in addition to covering outrageous illegal moves by people intent on pushing Christianity into the closet, has some good notes on bad mistakes made by people trying to fight back. Unless you’d like to make the same mistakes out of ignorance, I’d suggest reading the book. (Not that I can remember all the lessons I picked up reading it! Time to reread it, I guess.)

On a related note, could we try to remember, during all the hustle and bustle and battles over what’s right, that retail businesses are private enterprises? The people who run them are free to celebrate or not celebrate however they want. If you want to thank them for Christmas displays, or snort at Happy Holidays displays, feel free. But please. Could we be civilized about it? For one thing, not everyone who is saying Happy Holidays is trashing Christmas. Happy Holidays used to be a standard greeting that included Christmas as well as other holidays, and I suspect for many people that’s still the way they mean it. Season’s Greetings – same thing. That’s fair enough, in my book. For another thing, it is their store. You are under their roof. They do have rights. I mean, would you walk into somebody else’s house and tell them how to decorate, talk, or think? Store owners and managers and clerks no more ought to be expected to leave their minds and hearts at home than anybody else.

Engage them in conversation? Sure.

Abuse their hospitality, when they’re sitting ducks because of the job they have? I wish you wouldn’t. It’s bad form and bad manners, if nothing else.

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