A few years ago, I kept seeing billboards saying "Put the Christ back in Christmas" (objecting to the shortened term "Xmas," and to the secular "Santa Claus" celebration of the holiday). This never made any sense to me, because I think it's clear that there are at least three Christmas celebrations: The Christian one, the secular one and the Jewish one (called Hanukkah).
Some people celebrate one of them and others celebrate two of them. Some Jewish-Christian families may even celebrate all three. Coming out of Thanksgiving at a time when Wikileaks are revealing all sorts of nefarious things about our government secrets, I feel like there ought to be a special Wikileaks for every family, and in many families (ours included), one person takes on that role. If you want to know what's going on with anyone in Whitley's family, you just ask "Joan."
It also seems like what happens every year is that families get together and fight at Thanksgiving, then make up at Christmas. It's not a bad pattern of behavior, if you think about it--it clears the decks for the coming year, when the resentments can start building up all over again.
When it comes to the three potential ways to celebrate Christmas, I'm surprised that the religious celebration is not being used as a hot button topic for some of the extreme politicians who seem to be pontificating in the media, but it's early days yet and I suspect this will get into the news soon. I was amused when one of the recent candidates denounced masturbation (as if this had anything to do with running for Congress). I've always found it amusing that so many organized religions denounce a practice that every single person who has ever lived has indulged in at one time or another--talk about finding a way to gain control over others! This same candidate confessed to dabbling in Wicca as a young girl, which I found a bit insulting to Wiccans, who are some of the most sincere people I know.
I've always thought that it was a shame that, thanks to Paul, the story of Jesus got separated from his Jewish heritage, because in a way, Judaism and Christianity are the same religion, Christianity simply being the next step in that long Jewish journey. Jesus himself was born and died a Jew, something some so-called Christians would like to forget. Hanukkah is a celebration that Jews have resuscitated from the dusty grab bag of their extensive history so that their kids can also get presents at Christmas time. In the December 2nd edition of the New York Times, Howard Jacobson writes: "I’d like it if we had better songs to sing at Hanukkah--Something to rival the Christmas oratorios or passions, the hymns, the carols, the cantatas, Bing Crosby even. But all we ever sang was 'Maoz Tzur,' compared to which 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' seemed musically complex."
After thinking about it for many seasons, I've finally arrived at the holiday that I want to celebrate: The Christmas of giving. I find that trying to find the perfect present for someone is a wonderful way to get out of the usual "me, me, me" state that we all seem to dwell in so often and really think about what the other person might like--not what I want to give them, but what they'd really like to receive. I recently has an opportunity to do this when I sent a birthday present to a young girl in the UK. I shopped carefully, using the cue her parents had given me that she loved "anything feline," and found her some items I thought she might like. It turned out even better than I expected: I got an email thank you, followed by and a tearful "skype" thank you, then a lovely a written note, which now has a place of honor on top of my dresser.
No matter which Christmas holiday you celebrate, there's no better gift than that.