Author’s note – this first appeared in this space in 2013, so it is a retread, for which I apologize. It contains little to no bluegrass content, for which I apologize. Now I’m done apologizin’!
Every year about this time, a debate rages anew. At some point, a few years ago, someone suggested to associate this season with a single, non-secular holiday (that would be Christmas) was insensitive to people of other faiths. So, an effort was made to remake the season in a secular light. Another effort sought to be more inclusive and endeavored to ensure that all well-wishes for this time of year made specific mention of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. And this spawned yet another movement to “take back Christmas”.
To all of this, I say “Feh”.
I grew up in a not-very-religious home. although I was aware at a very young age as to the religious significance of Christmas. The significance was easy to understand for even a very small child. Per Christian belief, Jesus is the son of God, and Christmas is his birthday, Every kid can understand that.
So we have this celebration of this sacred event in a large part of the world, and every kid also soon realizes that, in addition to getting presents (which every kid likes), there’s also an earnest effort being made, during this season, to try and be nicer, more forgiving, more generous and more charitable to our fellow humans. Obviously we all should act this way all the time, but it’s hard to focus on anything all the time, so it’s still a worthwhile pursuit to refresh our natural goodwill, and since the values of charity, love and altruism are symbolic of some of the central tenets of Christianity, I was told we’re doing all this to honor Jesus’ birthday. All very positive stuff.
However, charity, love and altruism are not uniquely Christian traits. Or religious traits, for that matter. So, many people have embraced the notion of a time of year to recharge our best traits, and think of Christmas season without much thought to the Christian history behind it. Does that make the sentiment behind an annual upswell in care for our fellow man, a bad thing?
In fact, most scholars (secular and non-secular) believe that December 25th (or its pre-Gregorian calendar equivalent) could not have been Jesus’ birthday – rather the date was chosen for political reasons (it neatly synced up a Christian holiday with some existing pagan winter rituals, making conversion easier), so Christians don’t really have a historical claim on the season we call Christmas season.
So, is it wrong to call it Christmas season? Well, the holiday we call Christmas, and held sacred by Christians is smack dab in the middle of it, and gave the season the name. Is it insensitive to non-Christians to call it Christmas season? Who are these people, exactly, who are outraged at this?
I choose to stick with the term “Christmas season”. It is my personal opinion that those who get pushed out of shape by the term need to chill out. You don’t have to be a Christian to celebrate the season, and the admirable goals of increasing good will towards everyone during this period. So, even if you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, chill out, celebrate in your own way, give generously and find something else to be outraged about. I’m not letting the Christians off the hook, either. When people sniff indignantly at feeling forced to celebrate a holiday that doesn’t match their religions list of holidays, that’s their problem. There’s no need for Christians to get all worked up and characterize it as an attack on Christmas. You don’t need to “take Christmas back” – it has taken on a secular resonance that you can do nothing about.
Bottom line – Christmas means different things to different people. I choose to say “Merry Christmas”, and when I say it, I am wishing great happiness and joy throughout the season, and I hope the recipients of those wishes will take it in the spirit (holy or not!) it was intended! If it offends you, I am sorry, and urge you to shed those negative feelings as pass my good wishes around, where they can really so some good.