Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah for our Jewish friends! Happy (soon to be for Muslims) Ramadan! Happy Deepavali (just past), also known as the Hindu Festival of Lights! Happy Children’s Day Buddhism (Dec. 19 or 25, depending where you live).
Anyway, consider this your holiday greeting, you all!
Do you see what I just did? Included in my Christmas greetings the major holiday festivals from the five great religions of the world. And I’m still here!
No lightning bolt has torn me asunder. No mighty wind has borne me away. No fire has consumed me for blasphemy. Given the ruckus that some fanatical souls are still kicking up about how celebrating one somehow diminishes the other, that’s a major achievement.
If you belong to some faith community other than the Christian, God bless you. You are at least as good as I am. I hesitate to say better because that would be a major blow to my ego, and my ego is so fragile it can’t take much punishment without totally disintegrating.
We have a good friend from our university days who is now Buddhist. She converted from Christianity several years ago because her former faith could not answer the questions she had arising from the difficulties and challenges of her life. We’ve been delighted to have her visiting us for a few days.
A group of us at least nominal Christians were discussing Buddhism with her this morning and questioning her as to why she had made the change, and what was better about Buddhism than Christianity.
She reminded us of something that wise old man, the Dalai Lama, said not long ago. An interviewer asked him what was the best religion in the world. His response was, “The best religion in the world is the one that’s best for you.”
That’s a most profound statement. It’s lacking in judgmental tone and completely avoids the “I am right, you are wrong” attitude so commonplace in much of denominational Christianity. There are echoes of that same judgmental quality in elements of Judaism, Islam and other religions. But when the pure teachings from the sources of these faiths are examined, we find none of it. I know some of you will argue that, but don’t bother, really.
So, this Christmas, I am taking delight as usual in celebrating the Christian holiday, just as I have always done. And yes, I know all about what Christian festivals have borrowed from other cultures and other belief systems, but that changes absolutely nothing for me.
If you persist in challenging the “facts” of the Christmas season, you may be able to do so quite logically and persuasively. But I will in turn challenge you as to the truths of the Christmas story and why those truths are important to people as much in need of hope and faith these days, as they have always been.
I would hope, in so doing, that I would not be offending or challenging the truths of these other religions, or even those who have no faith system at all.
In that context, perhaps you’ll forgive me a couple of my pet peeves.
I think it’s fine to wish people of other faiths Happy Holidays. No reason, after all, they should be deliriously happy about Christmas. But for me, it’s Happy Christmas! I don’t send out Christmas cards with happy holidays on them.
That doesn’t mean I’m not pleased to get them from you, mind you. That’s just me. Correction: that’s just Other Half and me, because she feels even stronger about it than I do. Christmas for us means a whole lot of things that are associated more with the Christmas celebration than with simply holidays.
If we send cards to Jewish friends, however, we’ll be happy to have them say “Happy Holidays!”
A tree that is decorated with lights and ornaments in our house is a Christmas tree. It is not a holiday tree. I would even dare to suggest, at the risk of being declared narrow-minded and bigoted, that any such trees erected at this time of year in what is basically a Christian culture should also be called Christmas trees. I see no reason this should be offensive to anyone.
I drink a lot of cranberry juice — good for my system, the experts say. Might be good for yours, too. Whatever, when it gets diluted with water it tends to lose its taste. It still looks like cranberry juice, but the same quality isn’t there.
If you dilute it enough, it will still have the faint appearance of cranberry juice, but will taste like tap water and be totally useless to you medicinally. I could, of course, use as illustrations other drinks that may be mixed with other liquids, but thought I should stay away from those so as not to offend purists. People who drink Purity syrup, for example, and single malt scotch.
Truth is — and this may be truth only for me — the celebrating of Christmas as a Christian festival is in danger of being diluted to the point where it isn’t Christian at all. If “Christmas” becomes “holidays” and “Christmas trees” are ”holiday trees” and nativity scenes are left out of school Christmas concerts altogether, you tell me how close we are to losing the whole thing.
That may not be a matter of concern for some of you, but I can pretty well guarantee that it’s extremely important to some of the rest of us. It bothers me that the “rest of us,” like so much of the silent majority, never seem to be heard. Hanukkah is Hanukkah, Ramadan is Ramadan, Buddha Day is Buddha Day, the Festival of Lights is just that and Christmas is Christmas. Get used to it!
Happy Christmas to all who consider yourselves even nominally Christian!
And Happy Holidays to all the rest of you!
Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.