I really like Christmas, a wonderful secular (and spiritual) celebration originating in pagan solstice rituals and a minor Christian holiday (so minor that the Puritans proscribed it), elaborated to its present status mostly in the 19th century.
What I like about it, in no particular order, is
- taking off a week or so from regular work for a shared special time
- public celebrations and performances
- all the music, from BWV 248 to Mariah Carey and even Richie Valens
- peace on earth and good will to mankind
- being out and about with your neighbors, shopping or just being there
- giving kids (or grownups) presents that make their eyes light up
- singing together in groups
- overspending on charity, because it’s part of the whole idea, and because of the happy accident that most people’s fiscal year (for deductions) ends at almost the same time.
- all the food from all the traditions; stollen, panettone, bûche de Noël, egg nog…bring it on!
- Christmas trees, a unique home-made folk-art convention with wonderful variations
- gathering families qua families to cook indulgent food and pig out together, and have friends over to enjoy each other
- seasons, and the miracle that the days will get longer again
I even like the goofy paradoxes and associations it’s acquired, like celebrating an event that took place under palms and olive trees with all sorts of conifer/snowy landscape imagery, and the wonderful fact that the most popular American Christmas song was written by a Jewish refugee from pogroms orchestrated by soi-disant Christians who had the completely wrong idea about their faith (Isadore/Irving Beilin/Baline/Berlin). I like it that the star in the east was actually in the west for the Oriental kings who followed it. I love the animals in creches.
I don’t like the commercialization, or the ghastly house-decorating one-up-manship that breaks out on the occasional suburban street, or the curdled pietism among some of my fellow Jews that denies them participation in a year-end festival that is for everyone. No, you’re not a bad Jew if you take your kids to Nutcracker! and there’s nothing sectarian in A Christmas Carol, or even Santa Claus and his reindeer. I forgive all of that, and I wish everyone more Christmas spirit.
I have no problem that practicing Christians today make a big deal out of its particular theological significance for them; Christmas is big, it embraces multitudes. But I wish the more narrow-minded among them were more sharing and less narrow-minded, and insisted less that if it isn’t strictly Christian it’s damaged for them and disrespected; Jesus is a prophet in Islam, for Pete’s sake! Christmas is a non-rival good and has big network externalities: the more people that get into it, the more of it there is for you. Again, I forgive all of that, and I wish everyone more Christmas spirit.
Merry Christmas, everyone; Christian Christmas, seasonal Christmas, community Christmas, whatever: it has something for everyone. Enjoy it.