From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
A clear call at Christmas
Published 1:02 am, Thursday, December 24, 2009
There's something odd about the Christmas season this year; nobody is suing anybody, not yet anyway, about a crèche on a town hall lawn or a menorah in a public park.
Last year, the annual Christmas quarrel about holiday displays in public places was even more raucous than the discordant intrusion by Alvin and the Chipmunks intrude on "the glorious songs of old." Nor was there a protest demonstration by a group of atheists mocking the presence of a crèche and a menorah on the town hall lawn in a Connecticut town.
Have we finally learned to be tolerant and understanding, to recognize and respect the right of all people to demonstrate their beliefs, no matter what they may be? Well, not completely.
Earlier this month, when the first Chanukah candle was lit on the menorah on the village green in Fairfield, three men dressed in black and wearing masks stood by muttering anti-Semitic obscenities and waving Nazi swastika flags.
Authorities took no action, stating that nobody was injured, no individual freedoms were compromised and that everybody has a right to express an opinion, no matter how offensive. Of course, that is so, but they are wrong if they conclude that no harm was done. When freedom of speech extends to language that is insidious and inflammatory, it ought to be curbed by conscience and a sense of decency if not by law.
So insensitivity persists among us and tarnishes the way we celebrate our holidays. Some public schools have banned holiday decorations in classrooms and have discontinued programs heralding Christmas or celebrating Chanukah, the Jewish "Festival of Lights." That restricts the privilege of observing holidays that many people hold dear.
There is, for example, the way people like Bill O'Reilly insist that saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" is deliberately "taking Christ out of Christmas." That's as wild an assumption as believing that a Grinch really did steal Christmas. Most people who say "Happy Holidays" are not anti-Christ or "enemies of Christmas." They are merely trying to be politically correct and all-inclusive, sensitive to the beliefs of whoever they are greeting.
How much more personal and meaningful it is, though, to extend wishes for a merry Christmas to those who recognize and appreciate the miracle of the manger in Bethlehem or to say a heartfelt "Mazel Tov" when we wish Jews a "Happy Chanukah."
The point is that there is ample room in this season of the year for the Christ Child, for Santa Claus and for the celebratory candles of the menorah. The holidays are broad in scope. We need only for our minds not to be so narrow.
In the dual celebration, the secular and the sectarian, society sometimes loses sight of the basic purpose, the real truth, of the observance of December's great holidays. That's probably what led the 17th century Puritans, strict religious constructionists that they were, to ban Yuletide festivities completely. Christmas trappings were just getting out of hand, overshadowing the piety the celebration warranted. Yet, over time, balance was gradually restored and we can now "deck the halls with boughs of holly" and still devoutly herald the eternal miracles initiated on a "Silent Night" so many years ago.
Perhaps it was recognition of the many facets of the holiday season that led President Obama to suggest a "non-religious celebration of Christmas." But how is that possible? After all, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, recognized even in secular history as one of the greatest religious leaders in the history of the world.
That is not to say, however, that the holiday season cannot be noted in a public park or school. A lighted Christmas tree may evoke thoughts of the Nativity, but it is not a religious symbol. Nor is the menorah essentially religious. It symbolizes an event that is more historic than religious, the military victory of the ancient Maccabees in recapturing the temple of Jerusalem and miraculously keeping the lamps glowing for eight days on a one-day supply of oil. So, Christmas and Chanukah are occasions for thanks to God.
More than just a coincidence of the calendar puts Christmas and Chanukah observances in close proximity. There is also a basic similarity in the precepts they espouse, just as there is enough joy in both for secular and sectarian sharing. There needn't be any strife at all.
That's what we wish for ourselves and all others now when we say "Merry Christmas," fully confident that the wish is sincere no matter how differently recipients may take it.