While driving home from the gym a few days ago, I was treated to a radio recording of the late Andy Williams' tribute to Christmas "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." To me, that simple song illustrates the spirit of Christmas to all who celebrate that holiday.
For children, both young and old, in the home and in the community, Christmas was indeed "the most wonderful time of the year." And, as most of us remember our childhood, the longest and most tedious month of the year was that which ensued between Thanksgiving dinner and that delicious anticipation of the visit from Santa Claus.
Over the years, Christmas has evolved to mean many things to me: the early, protracted and fiercely held faith in Santa; the Christian belief in the birth of the Christ Child; the secular as well as religious decorations and songs; the reading of Clement Clarke Moore's classic "The Night Before Christmas"; "Miracle on 34th Street"; various radio and televised presentations of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"; "A Christmas Story" and Ralphie's immortal quest for a Red Ryder BB gun.
It also involved the hanging of stockings (hoping for other than a lump of coal or switches and ashes), exchanging of gifts (no handkerchiefs, socks or underwear please), visiting grandparents (for the lucky ones), and, the piece de resistance — the early (very early) morning rising in excitement to see the results of the visit from St. Nicholas.
Christmas Eve, traditionally, is a night of little rest for parents — after shooing the youngsters to bed and laying out and assembling Santa's treasures, the night seldom lasts much after 3 a.m. I can remember my three boys doing a low crawl down the hall in a futile 1 a.m. attempt to jump-start Christmas Day.
In later years, most of us discover and enact the "more blessed to give than to receive" mantra of the season — realizing that many would do without were it not for the generosity of the more affluent. Department stores provide trees with the names and ages of needy children, the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program, The Salvation Army and churches, businesses and individuals perform a yeoman's job in bringing Christmas to the less fortunate.
To me, the spirit of Christmas is embodied in glowing expectations of young children as they consider the watchful eye of Santa Claus, their written and in-person requests and their unyielding belief in the jolly elf and his reindeer team. It is their final check of his position on NORAD before they retire and their genuine excitement on Christmas Day. The bottom line: Christmas is for children.
Consequently, I neither understand the thinking behind nor do I permit the silly skirmishing over the celebration of Christmas to spoil my holiday. Perhaps some individuals and organizations really believe they advance the individual freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution with the secular "Happy Holidays," "Joyous Season" and "Happy Winter Solstice." Nevertheless, I will respond "Merry Christmas." After all, since the federal government recognizes Dec. 25 as a national holiday, there is no reason to tiptoe so as not to offend others.
I really don't believe there is an all-out "War on Christmas" any more than I believe in a Republican "War on Women." What I do see, though, is a deplorable lack of tolerance for the beliefs of others by a minority of organizations, sects, individuals and spoilsports, coupled with a lack courage in its convictions by the Christian community in recognizing and enlisting the support from the Jewish, Muslim and other religious minorities in pushing back against intolerance.
The number of people who are genuinely offended by "Merry Christmas," Christmas carols, school Christmas pageants, and the various other religious aspects of this celebration must be extremely minute — as a very senior septuagenarian, I have yet to meet my first one. And, one of my pet peeves is the ultra-bird-brained notion that somehow a nativity scene on public property violates the Constitution.
In my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, et al. agreeing "we cannot allow a nativity scene or other religious symbol on public property inasmuch as it will establish a religion in violation of separation of church and state." That is probably the most egregiously petty and foolish interpretation of the Constitution in my lifetime.
Finally, there has been far too much needless wrangling over a celebration of such importance to Christians and so inoffensive to those of other faiths. I, as do most people, seek no interference with the religious rites and celebrations, or the lack thereof, of other sects and denominations — tolerance is a virtue well worth practicing.
In the words of the philosopher, historian, writer and proponent of civil liberties Voltaire: “Discord is the great ill of mankind; and tolerance is the only remedy for it.” An enlightened society will not tolerate intolerance of any ilk — the spirit of Christmas is here to stay; let us not permit it to divide us.