Christmas calls for shared wishes among Christians of many stripes, and, hopefully, shared warmth and well-wishes to brethren of other faiths. Recently, however, goodwill seems to be overcome by a war over Christmas, a war between traditionalists who see an assault on Christmas, and modernists who wonder why the Christmas message shouldn't be universalized. Traditionalists rightly insist that striving for inclusivity can make messages too generic and, ultimately, meaningless. Yet, contemporary Christians cite several reasons why there is too much paranoia about those who say "Happy Holidays."
Just as some doubt that atheists can have any set of moral principles without belief in a divine being, many steeped in tradition think that casual Christians are, somehow, bogus. Both beliefs are wrong. One can display legitimacy across a wide spectrum of belief. Businesses are often more cautious than individuals, adopting "Happy Holidays" to include (and avoid offending) Jews, Muslims, and those of other faiths. This doesn't mean those who are hesitant to say "Merry Christmas" should be boycotted, does it?
Christmas never had a golden era. Its passed through many periods as a rowdier, less-recognized holiday than Easter. The Norman Rockwell Christmas didn't exist outside his paintings. But one genuine source of bitterness today stems from an old assumption: white, male, Anglo-Saxon values were the default ones in society. Since those assumptions no longer hold true, the symbols of Christmas have to compete on a level playing field with other value systems. Still, if we apply Jesus' teachings to the new world of equanimity, we can encourage mutual understanding whether a creche, complete with three wise men, exists in the town square.
At Nelson Mandela's recent funeral, few spoke of his political work. Rather, it was his forgiveness and mercy everyone remembered. Similarly, Jesus' inspiration to zealot contemporaries or the later Crusades is not important. Rather, it was his message of love and mercy that can bring us together around the wassail cup, whatever greeting we choose to share with each other.
And for those of you who still remember and love Seinfeld - Happy Festivus!
Loring Wirbel is the chairman of the Pikes Peak chapter of the ACLU.
Wirbel's response to Daly:
Pope Francis won so much attention in 2013, it's easy to overlook significant changes in Christianity outside the Catholic Church. Quietly, many evangelical churches and organizations such as Focus on the Family are shifting from cultural battles to concentrate on matters of spirit and service. Jim Daly's essay exemplifies this, showing how the Christmas message can address a contemporary world of pain.
The message may not have reached all foot soldiers. Recently, a Salvation Army bell-ringer in Phoenix was assaulted for saying "Happy Holidays." But it's heartening to see this rigid Christmas interpretation die out. Love, empathy, and mercy are more universal values.