Recently, I’ve been hearing from readers who think that there are a lot of things wrong with Christmas. I agree that it’s way too stressful and it puts far too much pressure on people who don’t have extra money to spend on presents and parties.
I suppose toy companies do have the legal right to boost their profits by creating artificial demand for their products among children. It is questionable, however, whether it’s morally right for them to make parents feel guilty and dread the holiday because they can’t afford to buy toys the kids wouldn’t even want if they hadn’t seen them on TV.
But I don’t have much patience with the folks who want to determine who can legitimately celebrate the holiday and how they should to do it. They’re missing the whole idea. Christmas wasn’t really celebrated in America until the 19th century, St. Nicholas was a Greek-Orthodox bishop in what is now Turkey who never saw a reindeer, Jesus probably wasn’t born in Bethlehem, and April 17, 6 BC is a far more likely birth date.
Caroling in Central Park, which I mentioned last week, doesn’t in any way violate the “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment, nor would a cross, a menorah, or the seven symbols of Kwanzaa. The real brilliance of Christmas, I suspect, is that its message has evolved to be meaningful to virtually every religion on earth. That is why there are millions of non-Christians who celebrate the holiday, carols and all.
So the idea that the holiday is not religious enough is as silly as claims by the American Atheists that the main thing wrong with Christmas is Christ. As you may know observant atheists, if there can indeed be such a thing, wage an anti-Christmas campaign every year. This year their billboard apparently says “Who needs Christ at Christmas? Nobody.”
What you should celebrate, say the atheists, is the “true meaning of Christmas:” friends, charity, lights, snow, ice skating, and, inexplicably, Chinese food. At least that is what their New York billboard says, although I assume that on their Miami billboard they change snow and ice to sand and coconut oil, and change Chinese food to sopa de pescado.
A couple of years ago, the Pew Research folks tested people to find out what group knew the most about religion. It was actually a pretty simple test that asked 36 questions about the mythology and practices of the five major religions. The group that did the best with 21 questions correct on average, and thus the group that knew the most about religion, was the atheists.
What does that prove? Well, I think it proves that it is very easy to over intellectualize things and miss the entire point of whatever you’re learning about. On one hand you have the atheists desperately trying to prove that God does not exist while fundamentalists vehemently defend every word of their often mistranslated religious texts trying to prove the opposite.
Both, I think, fall into the trap of believing that there is anyone who has the right to decide what is right. I would like to suggest that the “pursuit of happiness” clause, if I am allowed to call it that, in our Declaration of Independence addresses the problem.
The way I interpret it, people have the inherent right to believe whatever they believe, and that we have the collective obligation to respect that and support them. Frankly, what I like best about this time of year is that it is one time when you see that underneath the bitterness, the greed, and the prejudice there may be something better, something kinder, and that our prayers for real peace on earth someday may not be entirely in vain.