(1) a rallying battle cry for his Fox-brainwashed supporters, (2) another attempt to reestablish a nostalgic Norman Rockwell white-only moment in time, and/or (3) a marketing ploy to drum up more business in the season between Thanksgiving and New Years -- as if we needed further commercialization!
But, as is true of most bad things that come our way, underneath is an opportunity to look more deeply at what the ruckus is all about. In short, the matter seems to come down to how a diverse, secular society that honors freedom-of and freedom-from religion can honor its many diverse groups of religious and non-religious citizens. As a young nation, peopled principally in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by newly-arrived immigrants from European countries with Christian histories, long before public media and the modern advertising industry had power to dominate what we read, what we hear, what we see, and how we feel pressured by methods that prey upon our unconscious likes and dislikes -- long before all this, in a society strongly influenced by Protestantism, the recognition of a day to honor Christ's birth was much simpler.
But not so now. In addition to the increase in numbers of people from around the world, those newly-arrived citizens also bring with them the faiths of all the major religions of the world: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and others in addition to the established Judaism and Christianity. Factor in, as well, the growing number of the NONES who do not identify with any of the established religions, the atheists, the New Age do-you-own-kind of spirituality, etc. What a potpourri!
And then there is, in addition, our friends who discredit the Christmas story by reminding us that Christianity draws its narrative wonder and awe from the Roman's celebration of their holiday, the Saturnalia, an ancient festival celebrated between December 17-23, with much eating, drinking, decoration of trees, exchange of gifts, and what some commentators have described as excessive self-indulgent, sensual pleasures. All of this honored the god Saturn, a deity of agriculture, fertility, liberation, and time, to whom a pig would be publicly sacrificed in the temple. Supposedly, Christians hijacked the festival and moved the date of Jesus' birth to coincide with the Roman celebration of Saturn.
But it is not quite that simple. Winter festivals have sprung up in many parts of the world among a diverse origin of people, including:
Dong Zhi -- Chinese
Shab-e Yalda -- Iran
Inti Raynie -- Peru/the Incas
Shalako -- Zuni Indians
Soyal -- Hopi of northern Arizona
Taji -- Japan
(See "History Stories," History.com)
You begin to see a fuller, more complete picture than would be given by a simple association of Saturnalia alone. In other words, there is an intriguing interaction of time, the seasons, geography, people and their customs, and the deep faiths of the world's religions. We take for granted the simultaneous appearance of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa beside Christmas, but there are many other festivals and celebrations with similar rituals spread through time and geography, and yet each has its own unique heritage.
And so we come to a point I want to consider. It is this. Christmas is archetypal. Like all the other festivals in their unique manifestation, Christmas draws its lasting power and mythic wonder from its nature not only as a historical phenomenon describing the birth of a Jewish peasant from the Mediterranean region of the world. It is also anchored in the archetype of the winter solstice, and the human yearning for light, life, and hope.
The winter solstice marks the longest night of the years and the shortest day. For our ancients, it was no doubt a frightening time. Earlier on, they had no idea about astronomical wonders of the sun, earth, moon, seasons, fertility, dormancy. Sure, they would slowly over the centuries begin to piece together the patterns of nature coinciding with the movement of sun and stars, but not before the experience of winter solstice was bred within our bones as the interplay of life and death, light and darkness, hope and doubt, warmth and cold, fire and an all-encompassing freeze that threatened all life, the ending of which was uncertain. What could be done? Appease the gods, make whatever sacrifice could be made in order to curry the favor of the divinities, and meanwhile huddle together, recite stories, entertain those close to you in whatever way you could. Even Jesus offers this prayer for his people, "pray that it [a time of tribulation] will not be in winter." (Mark 13:18)
It is against that historical and astronomical backdrop that I say, "Christmas is an archetype." It lodges within the souls of Christians not only because of its promise of deliverance from the winter of life, but because of its portrayal of humanity's sense of cosmic purposiveness made possible paradoxically by the birth of a child.
This unique message of hope and renewal, a saving promise of humanity's higher nature, adds to the richness of deposits in the spiritual experience of all Christians. To silence its mythic narrative, to ignore it, to cover it up with the tinsel of holiday trivia, or to regard it as only a replay of the Romans' Saturnalia, would be to cancel an investment in life for generations to come.
The same can be said for all the festivals that bring light to our winter solstices. And so I say, let us greet each other with the best each of us has to offer. If it is Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist -- whatever -- I welcome your greeting and salutations.
What would be chilling would be to forfeit our heritages and become like Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a soul-less person whose disgust not only with Christmas but with all things loving, had frozen his personality to the point, "the cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice." The best he could say was "Bah Humbug"!
And so, from the warmth of our house to the warmth in yours, I bid you a Merry Christmas and best wishes for your New Year.