Sunday, April 5, 2009

A tree called by any other name

May your season be happy and gay.

There are people who would deny me my Christmas.

I am not a Christian. I do not believe Christ died for my sins. I have neither been baptized nor christened. I have been in churches for weddings, funerals, and perhaps a handful of services with friends throughout my 32 years of life. Each time I have been in a church I have felt it very important to respect the church’s faith, even if I do not ascribe to it.

However, since my first year of life, I have celebrated Christmas. At first I received presents. Then as I grew old enough to understand the concept of giving, I purchased and made gifts for my family and friends.

Every year I have spent the 25th of December in the presence of a tree, real or artificial. I have pinched, prodded and ripped open hundreds of presents. I have eaten mountains of stuffing, turkey, and mashed potatoes.

I have watched weeks of Christmas specials, some more secular than others, with each culminating in its own miracle. These specials have illustrated the importance of family, of sharing, of goodwill to your fellow man. It is important to give reverence to this special season where we are all reminded that it is better to give than to receive.

As I grew up and moved out on my own, I learned that some traditions were not shared by other families, “Dip” (known as sauce to many) on pound cake is obligatory in my family. Our stockings are old and worn. My beau’s family has “sacks” rather than stockings.

For other families, it is attending Christmas Mass. Never did that myself. Not even once.

But I understand how important each family’s traditions are. Our family still talks of the year we couldn’t get turnip because we celebrated in Kansas. Christmas dinner was good, but it wasn’t the same.

Not to say our family hasn’t evolved with every new Christmas. The year after my Grandma died, we knew Christmas would never be the same. But even with her gone, we’d still have Christmas.

Some may say because I’m not Christian, I can’t possibly celebrate Christmas.

Rituals -- and the names we give them -- provide us with context and continuity. Hanukah, Kwanzaa or Yule is not Christmas. They never will be… and that’s perfectly fine.

Whether I believe in Christ or not, society has made Christmas a very special time indeed. Between the sales, the mall Santas, the toy drives, the craft ideas… even the blessed fruitcake --- all have conspired to reinforce the message that Christmas is so many things to so many people… and there is no other holiday quite like it.

Although the traditions vary from family to family and faith to faith (or lack thereof) the season holds great importance to all who participate.

Still, there are those who would take away my right to say I celebrate Christmas. The feel that their faith allows them to lay claim to who can use the name and who cannot.

They would take away all that is good and decent about my Christmas celebrations, and that it is wrong. They would say that my celebrations are an abomination and degrade the value of “Christmas”.

Even though my key motivations may be very similar – giving to the less fortunate, building family bonds and spreading joy – they would say “well, it’s not REALLY Christmas you’re celebrating.”

In fact, many might say I am devaluing the word “Christmas” regardless of my actions. “Why not call it Festive Holiday Season instead of Christmas?” they might say. “After all… it’s not just semantics. For His sake... His NAME is part of the holiday!”

But I don't recall the Festive Holiday Seasons of years gone by. I remember the angel on the tree, Good King Wenceslaus and letters to Santa. I grew up with Christmas. It was always all around me. And I have always felt a part of it.

I'd also like to point out I did not ASK for society to thrust the season upon us all. It is engrained in our Government, our workplace, and our media outlets.

By denying me the use of the word "Christmas" would that mean my gift to a toy drive is not a Christmas gift because I am not a Christian? Would fundamentalists reject such a gesture of goodwill because I insist on saying I celebrate Christmas?

If you say “Put the Christ back in Christmas,” does that mean the term Christmas should be removed from every secular form of communications? Should it only apply to Church-sanctioned events? Would religious leaders have a new racket, having to bless evergreens individually before they could legally be called Christmas Trees?

What’s in a name? I heck of a lot. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna call the 7 foot tall evergreen in my living room with garland, ornaments and an angel on top a “Holiday tree”

(Mind you, the people who would object to me calling it a Christmas Tree are assured by their faith that I’m damned anyway. But I digress.)

Among Catholics and Protestants, Agnostics and Atheists, we have a common understanding of what is in keeping with the “Christmas Spirit”. By sharing the name of this holiday, we communicate to all that the events we participate in have great importance to us.

Consider the phrase “I dropped the turkey in front of the whole family right before dinner”.

Now consider “I dropped the turkey in front of the whole family right before Christmas dinner.”

Which is worse? If you rob me of the use of the word Chirstmas, you'll never really understand in the pit of your stomach what I went through.

If I’m not allowed to use the term Christmas when describing my family’s celebrations, you might say I am prevented from truly connecting to you on a deeper level. By removing the term from my vocabulary simply because of my faith, there is only so much I can share about this family rituals which you and I may not share, but can equally understand.

There’s a whole subtext that gets lost by using a different term. The term Christmas is bigger than Christianity. It spans faiths and cultures. Because of the cultural importance of the event, of its evolution throughout history, and its imposition on non-Christains in society it has become a door through which a better understanding of each other can be reached.

In short: the word is bigger than any one person's, religion's, culture's or society's concept of it.

And that is why the term used to identify the joining of two lives must be "marriage".

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