Somehow, it’s there. It peaks through, it squeezes through, its real meaning still touching the hearts of many, conveying love, hope and charity. I am talking about Christmas and the wonder of it next door to the misuse of it, as in Black Friday. That’s when the gift buying erupts with mobs too often brawling over bargains in shopping centers, fists being thrown and guns being shot.
Imagine that — two shootings really did happen this year — but instead of talking about gun control let’s talk about emotional control, about people getting to the best within them. Surely some in those shopping centers forgave whatever rudeness came their way, figured kindness more important than maybe saving a few dollars and happily, sincerely said “Merry Christmas!” to their compatriots.
Here is a phrase full of good wishes and one that proceeds from at least some sense of joy and hope in this world. The words may be politically incorrect, but would it really be a huge offense to any sensible person not sharing one’s faith to hear so innocent and well-meaning an expression? Of course, there are those who belittle it, such as a New Yorker satirist saying its use is required by President Donald Trump’s Compulsory Acknowledgement of Christ Act.
To be fair, Trump has gone a bit far in his own remarks about the phrase, but one could as easily write a satire noting the fact that Kim Jong Un has banned anything even slightly resembling a Christmas celebration in North Korea. Then, for laughs, one could add that he may move to the United States and run as president on a platform of removing Nativity scenes not just from public areas, but from private areas, including churches. The polls aren’t high now, but …
It is in fact the case, of course, that Nativity scenes had to have their day in court to make it allowable to display them on government property, though only if accompanied by non-Christian religious symbols. There are schools in the country that do not even allow the word “Christmas” to make an appearance this time of year. And the Pew Research Center tells us that fewer than a majority of Americans now celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, but as a cultural holiday. What is more, relatively few Americans give a darn.
All of this fits snugly with other studies showing a sharp decline of religion overall in an America increasingly more secular. You see it in such facts as these: Just 20 percent of households attend church regularly; those with no religious affiliation is 22 percent today, compared to 4 percent in 1992; clergy are hard to come by, and millennials, our future, are the least religious Americans of all.
We happen to live in an age when religion is widely denigrated even though it helps us cohere as a moral society. For instance, a higher percentage of regular church-goers give to charities (including non-religious charities) in higher amounts than the non-religious. Varied studies, and not just a few, show the highly religious are happier, healthier and live longer than the non-religious, though all of this comes in a distant second to the spiritual experience of God in one’s life.
The good news, at least from my perspective, is that the vast majority of Americans do believe in God and that 90 percent do celebrate Christmas. They do it in a variety of ways, but for a great many it is dear, sweet family time of a kind that the great 19th century English writer Charles Dickens helped institute in the way the day is now observed. Spirits are obviously lifted. The Christ story still resonates in the minds and souls of millions. Violent consumerism does not come first with everyone. We can sleep in heavenly peace.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.