“I’m offended every time I hear a Christmas Carol, or see a nativity scene, or see a cross, especially if it’s all lit up. Even the Santa Claus and decorations bug me because I know that it all has to do with Christmas.” Such was the comment made on a California radio talk show a few years ago, by a fellow who chose to take offense at the season, rather than look for the good.
It really is disconcerting that there are some who suffer great angst over a national holiday that is intended to acknowledge not just the birth of Jesus Christ, but our humanity and commonality.
Calvin Coolidge said, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” When explicated in those terms it’s hard to imagine anyone taking umbrage at the celebration of Christmas.
Some are quick to take offense at various elements of our culture, and this time of year such relapses seem to increase significantly. Confucius is credited with saying, “He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a bigger fool.”
That seems appropriate consideration for any who take offense at what is not intended to offend. Some, like the aforementioned caller, take offense from displays like nativity scenes or menorahs, appellations like “Christmas Trees,” or greetings like “Merry Christmas,” and even music that may make reference to He whose birthday we celebrate as a national holiday. No offense is intended, but a free and open expression of anything with a hint at religiosity creates an anxiety for some even as our celebration of Christmas continues to morph into more of a secular celebration.
Each of us determines for ourselves whether we will be offended. And it’s not just about Christmas or religious expression; it’s about everything in life. When we are offended, we’re making a conscious decision to grant someone else control over our attitude. If we allow others to offend us, whether intentional or otherwise, we sacrifice control of our attitudes to someone else.
Contrast those who are so quick to take offense at the drop of a “Merry Christmas,” with an atheist philosophy professor I had an ongoing discussion with on a blog a couple years ago. After commending him for wishing readers “Merry Christmas,” he responded back, “By the way, if there’s a ‘war on Christmas,’ I’m not part of it. It’s fine with me if people want to put a manger scene in front of City Hall. Being an atheist doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy holidays and traditions.” What a healthy, mature, and tolerant attitude! He obviously has learned the great lesson of life that he can choose to be offended or not, it’s strictly voluntary, and that going through life with a chip on his shoulder, just waiting for someone to knock it off, is no way to live.
I appreciate Coolidge’s perspective on Christmas, for certainly there is an increase in sensitivity to others at this time of year in spite of the often-hectic schedules we maintain as we shop for just the right gift for each of our loved ones. But the foundational motivations for finding that gift are love and gratitude. That principle of love can and should be shared by all people, not just this time of year, but throughout the year. If there were a way of packaging this spirit of love and sharing that as our gift to everyone, think how much better the world would be. Surely, most of the world’s problems could be solved.
Charles Dickens, in 1843, penned the now immortal “A Christmas Carol,” that played a significant role in making of our Christmas observance the overt celebration that it is today. But it was also instrumental in transforming a holiday from one disavowed by many Christian sects because of its communal hedonistic excess to one of personal goodwill and compassion. If one man can, through his creativity and power of communication, do so much to transform Western holiday observance, how can we deny the potential of each of us, within our spheres of influence, to create such a transformation of our Christmas observance?
Surely we can each be “Dickens” in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, by redoubling our focus on the charity that is at the heart of our observance. Surely we can, through our individual acts of kindness, and increase in sensitivity, mollify the malcontents, touch the lives of those who may think they are forgotten or unappreciated in our society, and somehow ameliorate the temporal conditions of those who may have less than we.
Said Dickens of Ebenezer Scrooge, “…he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us.” A fitting end for his tome, and a noble goal for each of us.
Regardless of your theological beliefs, may the spirit of Christmas fill your home, so you can find joy in extending charity, service, and heart-felt comfort in reaching out to the lonely and the needy. Even the secularists amongst us would be hard pressed to criticize our observance of Christmas if it translated to such universal, humanistic altruism, which is what He whose birthday we celebrate would desire of us. To each of you, Merry Christmas, in the full, inclusive context of all the good that Christmas represents.