This is the time of year when we fondly look back on our childhood. I remember growing up on the South side of Chicago in the 50s and 60s. I remember those cold winter days and nights that seemed to warm up with all of the decorations on just about everyone’s house. As everyone does, as a small child I was taken to see Santa Clause and ask for my presents. It was a joyful time of year.
With the middle-class being very strong during those years, everyone seemed happy. I know that everyone wasn’t really happy with everything, but at least during the holiday season everyone appeared to be happy. Of course the vast majority of people in our neighborhood were Christian, but there were Jews and some athiests in the neighborhood as well. Even back then, we often told people “Happy Holidays” as a greeting. Especially people we did not know personally, because we didn’t know what holiday they were celebrating. Merry Christmas was something we said to people we knew were celebrating Christmas.
During the sixties the cry about the “commercialization” of Christmas really became louder. This concern goes way back in history, but with people actually making a livable wage they were spending what they could afford on presents. This, along with the growth of television created a host of commercials about everything from toys to clothes to tools to appliances.
Over the years this holiday season has changed dramatically. In my youth, stores did not open on Thanksgiving just to get more money. People were not forced to work that holiday for the sake of greed and profit. Workers actually were a valued part of a company. People really did stay with one company for their entire career because that company valued them. That too has changed.
So here we are some 50 years from my youth and we are about to celebrate the holiday season. There are still some complaints about the holiday season being over-commercialized. But more and more we have started hearing the wails of people who believe that there is an actual “War on Christmas.” Rather than spending time talking about what Christmas means to the average Christian, the Conservative Christian Cult is talking about how those “others” are trying to take Christmas away from us.
During this season there are basically four holidays celebrated. One is Christmas. Another is Chanukah. One is Kwanzaa. Each of these holidays have a very real meaning to those who celebrate them. I know I said four and listed three. That is because people who do not believe in any of these religions or cultural holidays still celebrate the holiday season. They simply attach a more secular or humanist view to them. That is just as much of a holiday as the others and is the fourth holiday.
Who has the right to refuse to honor those people and their holidays? Why is it okay to say Merry Christmas and not Happy Chanukah or Happy Kwanzaa? Or, for that matter Happy Holidays? The only answer can be that some people refuse to recognize those other holidays. They refuse to offer tidings to anyone who does not celebrate Christmas only in the traditional Christian theology.
That is the real shame and the real problem about the holiday season. Rather than celebrating the holidays and offering good cheer to everyone, some have made it into a cultural war. The real “War on Christmas” is being fought by those who want to fight this cultural war. That is not in the tradition of Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa. That is mean-spirited and hateful.
So I want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Very Happy Holiday. Whichever holiday you celebrate, may you find warmth, happiness, and cheer with your family and friends. I will share one little private tidbit with you. While we sit down to our holiday dinner, remember there are thousands of Americans who won’t be able to be with their family. These include our military, police, fire, border patrol, doctors and nurses, and a whole bunch of others who must work on Christmas to help protect us.
When I retired from the Coast Guard, we started a little family tradition of our own. We set out a complete set if dinnerware and leave the chair in front of it empty. This is to remind us of all those who cannot be with their families on that day. We even offer a little toast to them for their dedication and sense of duty. Without them, our holiday season just wouldn’t be the same.
As we celebrate, remember, unlike our ancestors in ancient times, we don’t have to light bonfires in order to coax the sun to come back and warm us. It will be back in a few months. But maybe we should be building bonfires anyway. Just to remind us that what really counts during the holiday season is the love we should all have for our fellow humans whatever they believe. Otherwise, that child in the manger Christians celebrate will weep again this year.