December 10, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Happy Holy-day! And Merry Christmas, too!

Cynthia DewesHas anyone wished you “Happy Holidays!” yet? Or should I ask, How many thousands of times lately have you heard this well-meant greeting?

On the other hand, how few folks outside of church have been brave enough to wish you a “Merry Christmas”? Think about it.

Perhaps it is the politically correct who should think about it, those who insist on “Happy Holidays” instead of using the original name of the Christian celebration. That’s because “holiday” means “holy-day.” Horror of horrors.

No one, politically correct or not, wants to give up the pleasures of this festive season. It’s a nice break from the dreary, cold weather, and it fits just right in the public school schedule. Besides, it offers great food and gifts, and an excuse for shopping.

So, rather than deny themselves this fun, the correct dream up euphemisms to obscure the religious, and specifically Christian, focus of the—er—holiday. It’s “yuletide” or “jolly days” or “winter festival” or whatever.

And who are the correct heroes of this event? Well, there’s Frosty the Snowman and The Littlest Angel and even Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There’s also Scrooge or the Peanuts gang or the Little Drummer Boy, all of them at least peripherally connected to Christmas by some feel-good message of generally acknowledged virtue. But nowhere may we see the true “reason for the season,” namely Christ.

The Holy Family, with the baby Jesus at its center, the crèche, is forbidden to be placed in public places. Traditional carols which mention Christian themes or Christ’s birth are doctored to avoid religious terms or simply omitted from the airwaves. So, instead of an inspiring “Ave Maria,” we get drivel about a Grinch—whatever that is—who stole Christmas.

It seems to me that if people understood what Christmas means, they would insist on the (truly) correct name for it. We say it is a time of hope, peace and joy, but what does that really mean?

Unfortunately, as human beings we live in a scary world. That is just a fact. We suffer from physical ailments, emotional damage, selfishness in ourselves and others, and a general tendency to think, believe and act out the worst possibilities. When things are going well, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it does we say we knew it was coming.

We make decisions which turn out to be wrong because they were self-serving, or because they were driven by a need to belong, or the desire to prevail over someone else. We do this on a smaller scale in our families or workplaces with bickering and unreasonable competitiveness, and on a large scale as nations with dubious ambitions and the ability to make war.

But when Christ who is God entered our world as another human, he came to show us the way through this life. The salvation he brings is simply the knowledge that we are loved by a just and merciful God. We are thus freed to believe in the good intentions of others, and to be generous and open in our dealings with them. We can regain the innocence of little children.

Peace flows from justice, and hope is its channel. That is essentially what we celebrate at Christmas when we welcome God’s great gift. That may indeed be a religious statement, but it’s what Christmas is all about.

Like it or not, this day marks a religious celebration. That’s why it’s a holy-day. Thank you, God.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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