In the United States of America, Christmas has come to encompass a great variety of activities and ideas, and peace and goodwill are the goal of most.
The religious emphasis remains fully available to those who want to observe the birth of Christ. Nearly every Christian house of worship in the country glows with candlelight on Christmas Eve. Children’s pageants abound, and swaddled infants, serious parents, bumbling shepherds and angelic choruses are familiar and recognizable sights. Even Charlie Brown’s friend Linus recites the Christmas scripture.
That’s not to say that others don’t find meaning in the holiday.
Believers and nonbelievers alike drop coins and Christmas bonuses into red kettles, dish up free dinners, donate warm winter wear, fill food pantries, buy gifts for children who otherwise would have none, share goodies with neighbors and coworkers and reply graciously to the sincere intentions of those who wish them a merry Christmas. Kindness abounds, and we should cherish it.
Even the shopping frenzy has its roots in generosity. American culture has fostered the belief that finding the perfect gift is the best way to show love or appreciation. That’s not necessarily true; the link between love and spending is not nearly so direct. Still, many people treasure a gift given by a loved one who is no longer with them, and not many joys can compete with a child’s bright eyes on Christmas morning.
More than any other day of the year, Christmas is a time when Americans recapture traditions almost lost to the pace of modern life. They gather, and they think of those whose chairs are empty. They share memories, hopes and dreams.
On Christmas Day, the streets are quiet. Even most of the big-box stores close, but some needs don’t pause for holidays. Each Christmas, some military and law enforcement personnel, medical professionals, snowplow drivers, clergy, pilots, and even journalists, find themselves working. Their dedication is appreciated because they enable others to enjoy the day. Merry Christmas to all of them.
For the rest of us, whatever our religious beliefs, may we pass this day in peace, share joy and celebrate all that is good and true and universal, and find ways to bridge what divides us.
May you enjoy all the gifts of the season.