Secular – Of or belonging to the present or visible world as distinguished from the eternal or spiritual world. Not dedicated to religious uses. – Oxford English Dictionary
Proper names in the past 50 years or more morphed into our speech patterns as common, immediately identifiable nouns (and in some cases verbs) and we use them without giving them a second thought. Many of us didn’t grow up using facial tissue; we reached for a Kleenex when we felt a sneeze coming on. Also, we didn’t enjoy chocolate candy; we devoured a Hershey Bar. I’m sure the Earl of Sandwich never considered that his namesake town would be used centuries to come, to describe a meal or even road conditions (e.g., the traffic flow is "sandwiched" between two barricades). And the mayor of Hamburg probably didn’t dream his citizenship would cause many of us to salivate at the mere mention of his town. Regional colloquialisms aside, we use these terms in everyday Americana. No matter what part of the country, we all understand their meaning.
Why then, does the homogenous term for Winter Solstice celebrations-Christmas-cause such an uproar? Perhaps it’s time to set aside our manic over-reaction to non-secularism and just relax and enjoy the season.
For a moment, allow me to wax political. Read the Constitution of the United States. It’s not that long. You can do it. Nowhere in the Constitution, (our law of the land), does it mandate anything about "separation of Church and State." That verbiage shouts from the pulpit of the Declaration of Independence, (not the law of the land), merely a proclamation in the face of King George that we dared to stand alone.
The Constitution clearly outlined in the First Amendment primary limitations of the Federal government, and it specifically prohibited Congress from passing a law regarding establishing a state religion. Displaying a Christmas tree or Menorah in a local court house does not even come close to Congress passing a law. A nativity scene or a display of the 10 Commandments in a public building, again, never approaches our bicameral Congress going into session and approving a bill that endured the entire life cycle to reach this step in the legislative process.
So relax. While Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated in the winter, expressing affection for it remains quite legal-publicly and privately.
While I can’t begin to address each variety of winter celebration in this short missive, Christmas offers us an understanding of celebrations in general. Modern scholars now hypothesize that Jesus’ birthday occurred in the spring. Frankly, I don’t think it matters much. Just like us, Jesus and all other prophets incarnated on earth as a perfect expression of God. His teachings have endured more than 2,000 years, surely rendering a discrepancy of a few months immaterial.
So what the heck do we celebrate if the actual birth date is unknown? Going back to pre-Roman times, spotty evidence indicates that people worshipped many different Gods and believed each god took on a specific role. From the Roman and the Greek gods, we see parallels in their domains-the sea, the harvest, the sun, fertility, and more-and people performed various rituals to keep the gods pleased.
The Winter Solstice, as determined by phases of the moon and integral to planting and harvesting schedules, emerged as an appropriate time to thank the gods for various blessings of the recent crop yield, as well as throughout the year. Today, many of us worship one God, and the tradition of offering thanks and celebrating our blessings continues.
From hyper-sensitive to hyper-grateful
Our culture changes rapidly, thanks to the Information Age and the speed of communication. Secrets and privacy barely exist and you can bet that at any given time, you’re on camera somewhere. Finger pointing and personal offense rule the day. We move into our most celebrated time of the year and, once again, we lapse into secular phrases that mean little or nothing.
Other than "winter," what season does everyone greet? If a Jewish person wishes me Happy Hanukkah, I’m not offended. He’s coming to me from his point of view and it’s a friendly well-meaning greeting. I might return a "Merry Christmas" just to emphasize that although we worship differently, we still get along in this hyper non-secular world. As a fellow human, I don’t care whom you worship or what you believe. You need to follow your own conscience and your own heart. Who am I to tell you otherwise?
Christmas, to me, symbolizes beginnings, and new birth. The earth moves from the shortest day to progressively longer days and promises a spring of new growth. A starting point for new ideas, this symbolic hope for opportunity always gives us a cause to celebrate. We share gifts, eat our favorite foods and relax into tradition, much like the rituals practiced thousands of years ago. We gather with family and friends and reminisce and look toward the future. We catch up on our progress and reflect on our accomplishments. Not much has changed, except our decorations.
Today, we use symbols, the origins of which most of us never knew. Think of all the stories about the "real" Santa Claus you’ve heard in your life. No one agrees on his true heritage, but that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying the traditions associated with him.
Most of all, Christmas, and all the other celebrations, focus our attention on abundance and giving thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Whether you do that by circling a tree, singing a song or bowing your head-it’s all the same. Someday we’ll realize that gratitude knows no season. Sharing our time with one another and nurturing the planting of our ideas and dreams with those we love ensures the cycle of birth, growth and harvest in our lives.
To learn more about the different varieties of celebration, visit: www.religioustolerance.org/winter_solstice.htm