This morning when I got to work and opened my in-box, I found an email from a friend, who had it from a friend, etc, etc. One of those. I usually don’t pass these on, because I know they will make their way around the cyber-globe without my help. And this one has been going around for several years.
It was a piece from Ben Stein, written a few years ago. It seems that every year there is another attempt to eliminate the word ‘Christmas’ and replace it with something politically correct, inclusive, and non-offensive. Stein writes:
I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejewelled trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas trees.
It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
Both my parents were Jews, and when I read Stein’s whole piece, I had to think of something my mother used to tell us. She grew up in Dresden, and as far as external loveliness at Christmas time, German cities beat all. (I went to Dresden a few years ago, in August, and already then you could find shops with Christmas treasures – really beautiful, nice pieces, so I could imagine my mother’s child-heart longing to have some share in all the preparations.) She would tell us how, in their observant home, they would prepare for another celebration of lights, Hanukkah, but that it was just not the same as the Christian homes in their city where the windows glowed with candles and warmth, and the Christmas trees could be seen from the streets. My mother would gaze through these windows and wonder, will I one day have a Christmas tree in my home? Not knowing what the future held for her, she figured she never would. Years, and more significantly, a conversion later, she did, and as the Christmas tree was put up in our home every year, she told us of being a child in Dresden, and kindled in our hearts a closeness to the Hanukkah celebrations of her home. Conflict? Confused children? Never.
The celebration of light over darkness is universal, and we should not be afraid of offending one another by what we call it. Hanukkah celebrates the miraculous eight-day supply of oil to re-sanctify the temple after the Maccabean revolt. Diwali, meaning array of lights, is a Hindu light festival. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness and is one of the most important celebrations in India. Kwanzaa originated in African harvest traditions, and uses seven candles representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa which are lit each night for a week. Sound familiar?
The ultimate victory of light over darkness is the coming of Christ, whose birth we want to remember and celebrate, and whose Second Coming is so desperately needed. Christmas trees are not what my Christmas is about, but I don’t want to call them holiday trees any more than my Jewish friends want to call their Menorahs whatever we can think up to not associate them with Hanukkah. All religions have their outward symbols, and they ultimately lead us all to the source, Light, which comes from God, however He cares to send it to us.