“Merry Christmas” and the Spirit of Giving

Recently a Facebook friend wrote that he wasn’t going to stop saying “Merry Christmas,” no matter who it might offend. Comments to his posting were equally supportive, some going so far as to say it’s a bunch of “bullshit.”

It continues to amaze me that at this (supposedly) time of peace on earth and good will towards all, people continue to exhibit such animosity, hostility, and rancor towards those who don’t believe as they do.

I personally do not honor December 25th in any religious way. For one thing, although popularized as the date Jesus was born, evidence from all fronts indicates this is in error. But beyond that, I simply am no longer a “believer.”

It’s a long-standing tradition to give gifts at this time of year. In fact, kids have learned to expect toys and other goodies – to the point that people are urged to donate to “Toys for Tots” and other organizations just so the floor under the tree isn’t bare. And adults aren’t much better. They will spend money they don’t have simply to fulfill the obligation of the season.

giving

If people truly want to demonstrate the “Christmas” spirit, why limit it to words? Why not help others to have that Merry Christmas they speak of by giving to those less fortunate – expressed through donations of food, money to help pay the bills, blankets and clothes to keep warm. (And dropping loose change into the Salvation Army bucket doesn’t count.)

Pay attention to requests from your local paper about families in need. Buy a little extra when you go to the grocery store and drop it off at the Food Bank. Go through your stash of old blankets and take them to a local charity. In other words, take heed to that old saying: “Actions speak louder than words.”

“Season’s Greetings”

After spending over 15 years within the confining walls of Christianity, one day I ventured outside … and found the weather delightful. Unfortunately, certain individuals (well-meaning as they may be) are trying to drag me back inside — especially during this yuletide season.

To Christians, the last month of the year signifies only one thing: the birth of Christ. Facts be told, the date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. Scholars who have studied Jewish history believe it was more likely in the springtime, but this matters little to the faithful. For them, it’s not about facts or history. It’s about tradition. And it’s often about ostracizing those who refuse to go along with tradition, including using a holiday greeting other than “Merry Christmas.”

There is no disputing that Christianity is the dominate religion in the U.S. However, to use this majority position to try and force others to conform to Christian practices is simply wrong. Included in the makeup of this country are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, not to mention smaller religions such as Ba’hai, Deism, New Age, and others. There are also a growing number of atheists.

Many of these non-Christians, including myself, prefer to use the term “Happy Holidays” because it is more religiously neutral. Moreover, since this time of the year includes another holiday — New Year’s Day – the greeting becomes more inclusive.

In 1865, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem entitled, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Eve,” which included the words, “peace on earth, good will to men” (most likely taken from Luke 2:14). I was particularly moved by the third stanza where he wrote:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Each of us needs to remember that we are all part of the human race — and our beliefs should never define how we treat one another. To allow hatred or enmity to take the place of good will to men during this (or any other) time of the year is, well, not very Christian-like.

The Christianization of Christmas

Over the weekend, I read an article in my local newspaper entitled “Tough to Be An Atheist at Christmas.” It was about some individuals who seemed to struggle with how to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The comment one of them made was that “All the planned activities at this time of year revolve around the church.”

Of course this is because the Christians claim this holiday to be their own. However, celebration of this time of the year dates back much father than Christianity. In fact, many of the popular celebratory customs have pre-Christian or secular themes and origins. For example, erecting the Christmas tree is actually a pagan tradition that commemorates the Winter Solstice.

Christians tend to claim December 25th as the date of Jesus’ birthday even though many scholars have pointed out the more likely date was in April. The December date was actually the time of a Graeco-Roman (pagan) festival.

Interestingly, some early Puritan Christians (including those who fled to America) recognized the pagan influence that permeated Christmas and sought to remove it. They considered it “a popish festival with no biblical justification” and a time of wasteful and immoral behavior (from Wikipedia). Of course, they didn’t succeed.

Probably the biggest controversy that encompasses this time of year is centered in the seasonal greeting. Since Christians claim Christmas as their exclusive holiday, many are offended by those who prefer to use “Happy Holidays” to express wishes for the season.

Personally, I find it disturbing that atheists, agnostics, or any person of non-Christian faith should be criticized (or even ostracized) because they do not accept this December holiday as exclusively Christian. The choice to honor Christmas as a religious holiday, or to see it as simply a seasonal day of celebration, is an individual decision and should always be respected as such.

Ben Stein’s Confessions for the Holidays

I received this in my email today. Snopes.com says it is correctly attributed, but it also notes that it has been modified and added to over the years. The original comments were made in 2005 on CBS’ Sunday Morning Commentary. Please read my comments at the end.

My confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are, Christmas trees.

It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu . If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.

Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship celebrities and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him? I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where these celebrities came from and where the America we knew went to.

In light of the many jokes we send to one another for a laugh, this is a little different: This is not intended to be a joke; it’s not funny, it’s intended to get you thinking.

Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her ‘How could God let something like this happen?’ (regarding Hurricane Katrina).. Anne Graham gave an extremely profound and insightful response.. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we’ve been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed out. How can we expect God to give us His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’

In light of recent events…. Terrorists attack, school shootings, etc. I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was murdered, her body found a few years ago) complained she didn’t want prayer in our schools, and we said OK. Then someone said you better not read the Bible in school. The Bible says thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal, and love your neighbor as yourself. And we said OK.

Then Dr. Benjamin Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children when they misbehave, because their little personalities would be warped and we might damage their self-esteem ( Dr. Spock’s son committed suicide). We said an expert should know what he’s talking about. And we said okay.

Now we’re asking ourselves why our children have no conscience, why they don’t know right from wrong, and why it doesn’t bother them to kill strangers, their classmates, and themselves.

Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘WE REAP WHAT WE SOW.’

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell. Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send ‘jokes’ through e-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you startsending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion of God is suppressed in the school and workplace.

Are you laughing yet?

Funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list because you’re not sure what they believe, or what they will think of you for sending it.

Funny how we can be more worried about what other people think of us than what God thinks of us.

Pass it on if you think it has merit. If not, then just discard it… No one will know you did. But, if you discard this thought process, don’t sit back and complain about what bad shape the world is in.

My Best Regards, Honestly and respectfully,
Ben Stein

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Re: the C’mas greeting … It’s not about being threatened. It’s about the CHRISTIANS making such a big deal out of whether or not it’s used.

Personally, I prefer to wish people Happy Holidays because I’m sending good wishes for BOTH holidays … C’mas and New Year’s. But the CHRISTIANS get all ‘twitter-pated’ (a phrase my daughter uses) because they think the ‘meaning’ of C’mas is being ignored.

God doesn’t leave us. God doesn’t ignore us. God is always here. It’s PEOPLE that are the problem and injecting God into the schools or anywhere else is not going to make people change. They have to make that decision within themselves.

One thing Ben said that I totally agree with … We should all be allowed to worship God in our own way.