I’m going to wade into the “war on Christmas,” but it’s not what you might expect.
I like Christmas, and I always have. In fact, it’s probably my favorite holiday. That’s no earth-shattering revelation, because millions of people like Christmas, and it’s almost certainly the most popular holiday on the calendar.
What is surprising, and a bit sad, is that so many people have become so concerned with why we like (or should like) Christmas.
One person’s reasons might not be the same as another’s, and that’s perfectly okay.
For me, it’s not for any religious or spiritual reason: I actually find the whole “war on Christmas” thing pretty tedious. If you want to be offended by “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” all I can ask is, “Aren’t there more important things in life?” I mean, seriously. We could always emulate the British and compromise with “Happy Christmas,” but isn't the whole point to give and receive good wishes, no matter what words we use?
Should we be forced to acknowledge that the pine tree in the living room or the yule log on the fire were borrowed from European paganism? Should we worry too much about the fact that a springtime birth for Jesus was far more likely, based on biblical accounts, or that a December date was likely chosen to correspond with the winter solstice? Should we be forced to give Santa the cold shoulder because he’s become an object of cultural affection that "should" be reserved for that babe in the manger?
(I have a hunch cold shoulders don’t work too well on someone who lives at the North Pole; maybe we should all just chill instead.)
Then, there’s the gift-giving. I don’t like Christmas for any love the commercialism or any desire to brave the Mongol hordes on Black Friday and bring home a flat-screen TV for half the normal sticker price. I like a good sale as much as the next person, but I don’t like traffic jams, long lines or commercial pitches. And I don’t like that unspoken pressure to buy something of a certain value just because I’m afraid the person on the receiving end of my gift might be giving me something more expensive.
A lot of people love Christmas because they spend it with family (and a lot of people who aren't on good terms with their families don’t love it for the same reason). Me? I’m the only son of an only son who passed away a few months ago. My mom’s been gone for more than 20 years, and I’m in touch with precisely one of my extended blood relatives, whom I haven’t seen in person for years. So, the “time with family” aspect of the holiday really doesn’t apply to me – apart from the fact that I get to spend more time with my wife and that my stepson, whose company I enjoy, comes for a visit.
No, what I like about Christmas are the traditions. Some of them are no more than memories now, but those memories are sweeter than the cranberry sauce I used to eat with my turkey before the Type 2 diabetes kicked in.
Thanks for the memory
I remember when Christmas was a televised songfest, an excuse for crooners like Perry Como and Bing Crosby and Andy Williams to sing the songs that helped make them famous, or for younger talents like John Denver and Karen Carpenter to start new traditions that ended far too soon when they died far too young.
I remember Bing singing The Little Drummer Boy with Bowie, and I remember John Lennon turning an old ballad into a Christmas song with an anti-war message. I remember when Bob Hope sang Thanks for the Memory, when Dick Clark narrated the Times Square “ball drop” at midnight on New Year’s Eve and when Guy Lombardo’s orchestra played Auld Lang Syn.
I remember when I thought trolls were singing yuletide carols and “ ’round yon virgin” referred to the fact that Mary was rotund – because she was expecting a baby. And I remember wondering why old acquaintances should be forgot and what anyone would do with a gift of seven swans a-swimming if they didn’t happen to have a pond handy.
I remember Charlie Brown picking out that same forlorn little Christmas tree year after year, about the same time the residents of Whoville were making the Grinch’s tiny heart grow three times larger. And I remember Burl Ives and Jimmy Durante going all animated on us with annual TV tales of Rudolph and Frosty, respectively. (Ives’ animated character, Sam the Snowman, may have looked a little like Frosty, but he narrated Rudolph’s story.)
I remember the gift requests Santa fulfilled for me as a child, from a Slinky dog one Christmas to a Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots set another year. I remember the large, wooden castle I assembled at my aunt’s house when we spent Christmas morning there, and I remember how my grandmother always got more gifts than anyone else … because she had more close relatives than anyone else!
I remember riding down Christmas Tree Lane in Fresno every year with my parents. Traveling at 5 miles per hour with the headlights off, I’d marvel at the strings of colorful lights that turned the street’s towering Deodar cedars into living Christmas trees, and I’d smile at the hundreds of decorations that transformed the houses on either side into treats for the eyes.
I remember caroling with some of my friends in high school and hanging those special family ornaments on the tree.
Christmas as chronology
But Christmas isn’t just memories. It’s the fact that the list of memories keeps growing, just like Santa’s list. There are new neighborhood decorations to explore, new gifts to wrap and open, new traditions to create. (Ever tried Irish cream in eggnog? You should. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, it puts the old rum standby to shame.)
“Wait a second,” you may be saying. “Didn’t you say you were joining the ‘war on Christmas’? Everything you’re saying seems very much in the holiday spirit.”
That’s actually my point: Christmas belongs to all of us. It’s not just a religious holiday or a reason to run up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. It’s not even merely an excuse to gather with family or drop a few dollars in the kettle by the supermarket door. It’s more than all those things. Christmas is, in a very real sense, a living chronicle of all the things that have come before, from waiting up all night as a child to spending that first Christmas with your sweetheart to spending that last one with your parents. At times, it’s joyous; at other times, it’s bittersweet, very much like life itself.
Christmas tells the story of our lives, and perhaps it’s because I’m a storyteller that it holds such appeal to me. But regardless of the reason, I know I’m not alone. I’m wading into the war on Christmas because I want to end it. Let's stop bickering about why we like Christmas and just enjoy the season, because when it comes right down to it, we don’t need an excuse for peace on earth and goodwill to men (and women, too, of course).
We just need to express it, to make it happen. That, to me, is the spirit of Christmas.
May you have a joyful one.