Comments from The Outpost

20 December 1996

by Dan Murphy

Good evening.

And Merry Christmas! I know, I know. It's been politically questionable for a long time now to offer a Christmas-specific greeting to a general audience, even an audience of one if the actual holiday preferences of that one are not definitely known.

And it's true, we have a number of holidays being observed around this time of year -- Kwaanza, Chanukah, Solstice, Saturnalia, and so forth. Consequently, we often lapse into the rather bland "happy holidays" as a greeting designed not to offend anyone. My apology, by the way, if I left your particular choice of holiday out of that list.

The thing is, there are really two holidays that go by the name of "Christmas" -- one is the holiday defined and observed by Christians, and the other is an American holiday that also occurs on December 25 and is observed by millions of non-Christians in a variety of ways.

We might call this latter holiday "christmas" without the capital "C", or perhaps even "Crismis", spelled as it is usually pronounced -- something like "c r i s m i s". In referring to the American holiday on December 25, many people say "Crismis" without giving any thought to the connection with Christ.

Of course, it's common in some quarters to lament the commercialism or other aspects of contemporary Christmas and say things like "oh, we're forgetting about the Christ in Christmas". Well, I think that's true at a more basic level -- Christmas is celebrated as an American holiday with or without much reference to the legend of Christ as handed down by Christians.

Perhaps some Christians would object that their holiday is being usurped -- ripped off and given over to secular purposes. An understandable sentiment, but this kind of evolution has been going on for a long time. After all, the Christians of previous generations appropriated the conventions and traditions of other religions and communities for their holiday. It is generally recognized that the birth of Jesus didn't even occur at this time of year, but it's a time of year when many societies hold a holiday recognizing the rebirth of the annual cycle. Many such holidays have involved the lighting of lights, decorating with greenery, and exchanging of gifts. The early Christians created the Christmas holiday as an alternative to these other holidays for their adherents.

And, as I noted earlier, a number of different holidays with many of these practices are observed by various communities within our diverse society. I'm not for a moment suggesting that anyone give up celebrating any of these traditions, but maybe it's time to give ourselves permission to celebrate the American Crismis too! Then, we could say "Merry Crismis" without imputing anything beyond a basic national American identity to each other. After all, does anyone object to being wished a happy Forth of July or Thanksgiving?

Christmas has become an American national holiday, for better or worse. It's a bit too focussed on buying and getting things for my taste, but that's a commentary for another day. For now, though, I'd like to say Merry Crismis, as well as extend best wishes for any other holiday you may be celebrating, be it Christian, Jewish, African, pagan, or from some other national or religious tradition.

For this week, that's the view from the Outpost. For WMBR, this is Dan Murphy.

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