Christmas’s gift: A communal coming-together
by Melvyn L. Fein
Columnist
December 23, 2012 11:57 PM | 977 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I like Bill O’Reilly, but he can sometimes be foolish. At the moment, he has been waging a campaign against what he calls “the war on Christmas.” And while I sympathize with his motives, his arguments occasionally veer off track.

For instance, O’Reilly has been saying that Christianity is a “philosophy.” To be sure, he admits it is a religion, but then he points to Thomas Jefferson as an example of someone for whom he claims it was a philosophy.

This, however, is sophistry. Christianity has dominated Western religious thought for nearly two millennia. As such, it has influenced many philosophers. But that does not convert the religion into a political philosophy. As for Jefferson, he was a deist who would surely admit that his governmental ideas were molded by Judeo-Christian virtues.

Nor need we in the United States be ashamed to admit our specifically Christian roots. I am not a Christian, but I honor the Christian convictions of many of our Founders precisely because these served to shape important values built into our Constitution.

Which brings me back to Christmas. Recently I was on a radio program where the host asked me how I felt about Christmas. My unhesitating response was that I love Christmas. Indeed, I have always loved Christmas — ever since I was a small boy.

You see, Christmas is a religious holiday, but it is also a secular holiday. This may sound like a contradiction, yet it is not. The holiday that we know clearly honors the birth of Jesus Christ. This does not, however, prevent it from celebrating the winter solstice or our joint humanity.

As many readers know, the Christmas tree tradition goes back to pagan times. The evergreen was, and is, a symbol that life endures even when winter has the world in its icy grip. All those decorations we add have nothing to do with Christianity per se, except to associate the religion with a miraculous birth — one many believe redeemed humankind.

And as for Santa Claus, growing up in Brooklyn I had no idea that “Santa” was another way of saying, “saint.” Actually I also knew he was called “Saint Nicholas,” but this suggested no religions connotations to me. He was simply a jolly old man who brought presents to good little boys and girls.

No, Christmas is an American tradition, not just a Christian one. Nonetheless, some people think that “tradition” is a bad thing. They associate it with slavery and the Inquisition. These people are right to believe that some customs should be jettisoned, but they are wrong to think all deserve to be.

Not long ago, my wife and I attended “Dear Santa,” a chorus presented by the KSU University and Alumni Choir. It was beautiful; so beautiful that my eyes watered over. Moreover, some of the songs, like “Silver Bells,” were secular, while others, such as “Silent Night,” were religiously oriented.

Why, I ask, should I, or others, be denied this pleasure? Why, because some of this music is derived from a religious tradition, should I have to forego the emotional resonance built into compositions by men and women who were motivated by spiritual sentiments?

The same logic applies to Christmas trees, Christmas lights, and Christmas presents. Were these forced on me, I might object. But they are not forced on me, even when promoted by government entities. The fact that there is a manger scene in the public square in no way impinges on my freedom to believe what I wish.

So, to repeat myself, I love the Christmas traditions. They may sometimes be overdone, but I have even come to enjoy the commercialization of Christmas. These practices represent a communal coming together that benefits us all — if for no other reason than they promote “good will toward man (and woman).”

Hence I say “Merry Christmas to all,” and please feel free to wish me the same.

Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D., is professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.
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