Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Generic Christmas

Here is my December submission to "River Region's Journey" magazine. I trust you'll find it thought-provoking as we examine how our religious liberties are being challenged across America, especially during the Christmas season...

Could this possibly be the point of view of a non-Christian in December of 2050?

Recently, the signs of that December holiday began to be apparent again – yes, the ol’ orange and black retail decorations were swiftly replaced as if a magic wand had run amok in certain establishments. Brightly colored lights have begun to adorn yards and houses around our neighborhood, and the dates have already been set and invitation lists crafted for certain festive occasions.

It’s fun to celebrate, to spend happy times with family and friends. There once was a time when this season used to be known as Christmas. That was before certain retailers decided that it was too costly to offend customers who did not adhere to a certain set of religious beliefs. Slowly, but surely, the ads that used to say “Merry Christmas” were replaced by the more tolerant, “Happy Holidays”. Now no one even needs to specify which holiday – because they figure everyone knows. Society has a more sanitized, generic celebration, and those church people, well, they can have their ancient rituals celebrated in a more appropriate place – the church, inside their four walls, where no one has to be exposed to their archaic incantations.

I was, to say the least, quite pleased when our government got out of that “endorsing-of-religion” business a while back. Those scenes of Jesus in a manger, surrounded by the so-called, “holy” family, were an affront to those of us who wished to live our lives without being reminded that there are people who want to pass judgment on those of us who are not Christians. Christians claim they celebrate the birth of a baby who they say came to save the world – sure, he was a popular teacher in his day, but this mystical, “mind-over-matter” stuff was just a bit much for a reasoned society. So, those nativity scenes are no longer native to city hall grounds and courthouse squares, and those Christmas trees have become treated as symbols of family, friendship, and fun.

Sure, there are other holidays, which still retain their original names and personalities – Valentine’s Day is a celebration for lovers, the 4th of July has become a great reminder of tolerance and freedom of expression, and Halloween is just plain fun, with a dalliance or two with the dark side thrown in for good measure. But, none of these compare with THE holidays, the season, the winter festival, a way to break the monotony between the finality of fall and the promise of spring. It’s become much more carefree without the religious overtones – no more “war on Christmas”, when Christians would try to coerce retailers to put some mention of Christmas in their advertising, back when 95% of people in our country said they celebrated Christmas. It’s good that intimidation no longer rules the day and Christians keep their outdated religion to themselves.

When the courts began to enforce the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights, our governments, from Washington to cities and counties across our land, set a tone that church and state were to be absolutely separated. Even though for a while, certain high-profile Christians screamed that we were a “Christian” nation and that their freedom of expression was being limited, nevertheless there became so much hostility toward these people that their voices eventually were silenced. So now we don’t have to drive by a government building and be reminded of those 10 Commandments or walk into a store and have someone wish us “Merry Christmas”. We can now eat, drink, and be merry, and not pay a bit of attention to who we might offend. Freedom is a wonderful thing…

But, I’m really wondering why I end up rolling up a huge credit card debt this time of year to buy gifts for others, when I could be saving for that boat that I want so badly. Why am I looking for the right electronic gadget to enhance my light display? Why do we spend the time in preparation for a party that will be forgotten this time next year, or next week? Oh, yes, it’s THE holidays, the happy holidays, that are supposed to be bigger and better every year…but at the end of it all, after we shout “Happy New Year” (there’s that word, “happy”, again), it’s time to put it all back in the box. Is that what this has become – some instant gratification, some modicum of happiness that comes and goes as we load and unload boxes full of…glass…and cords? Wait a minute, I have a text, got to go pick up that holiday ham – there’s plenty to celebrate, isn’t there? You know, in a way, I miss those Christians and all there revelry this time of year…it just doesn’t seem the same without ‘em.