Right wing news media outlets and a scattering of Christians of many different theological stances have declared that there is a war on Christmas. It centers around saying Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays. Those who think the only way to acknowledge the season is by saying Merry Christmas are offended by those who use a more generic seasonal greeting, Happy Holidays.
Christmas is not the only religious holiday celebrated in December. Hanukkah (Jewish), Bodhi Day (Buddhist), Yule (Wicca), Zarathosht Diso (Zoroastrian), and Kwanzaa are just a few of the religious and cultural celebrations that take place in December. It is impossible to know everyone’s religious affiliation and it is insulting to say Merry Christmas to adherents of a different faith.
Freedom to practice any religion is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment. It was adopted on December 15, 1791. It established the separation of church and state and prohibited the government from making any law that established a religion. It also prohibited the government from interfering with a person’s religious beliefs and practices.
For all of our talk about religious liberty, our history living it out is less than stellar. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Pilgrims who came to the New World for religious liberty promptly established a state church. Droning preachers reminded people they were going to hell in services that lasted hours. Puritanism has been defined as the nagging uncomfortable notion that somewhere someone was happy.
Leaders of Massachusetts Bay Colony banished Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson for having the audacity to challenge Puritan theology and practice. I think they were tossed out because the Pilgrims couldn’t stand the thought that some people were not as miserable as they. And for the record, Puritans did not celebrate Christmas at all.
Christmas has a spotty history. The first recorded celebration was in 336 c.e. when the Roman Emperor Constantine chose the 25th of December as the day to mark the birth of Jesus. Several years later Pope Julius 1 made it official and declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25. It was in part an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia Festival.
The point is that Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on December religious holidays. There is no war on Christmas. There is a great melding of religious traditions that mark celebrations in December. This diversity is, in part, what makes our country great.
So maybe instead of getting all bent out of shape, we might work at acknowledging our American sisters and brothers who embrace other religious traditions. It is a freedom guaranteed by our Constitution. It is also a way to not be a jerk.
Maybe those who are convinced that Christianity is the superior religion might develop some humility and celebrate the great religious diversity that is woven into the fabric of our society. Jesus had some advice for people with superiority complexes; get the tree out of your own eye before you try and pluck out the speck from someone else’s eye.
Maybe people could remember that the heart of every religion is love. Religious extremists of every stripe do not speak for the vast majority of people who adhere to that religion. Isis does not speak for Islam and the white evangelical base that supports the Occupant does not speak for Christianity.
There is much that makes this season holy. So get your panties out of a bunch, put on your grown up pants and honor the religious diversity of our great nation.