My friend Kathi and I had just strolled by the holiday-themed windows at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and were standing across from the gorgeous and massive St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Kathi had just been talking about the renovations there.
“Would you like to go in?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied.
And in we went, talking as we entered about saying a prayer for peace in the world. We sat quietly in a pew for a few minutes. Then we paused to look at the nativity and walked around in back of the main altar before making our way out.
It was a meaningful moment in a day where we’d decided to enjoy some of the beautiful aspects of Christmas in New York.
Yes, that’s right. Christmas.
Look, I said the word and no one has hauled me off to jail.
Because while the folks in the big network building one long block to the west have been telling their viewers for years that there’s a war on Christmas, I again had to wonder if they’ve walked outside their doors. It looks like Christmas threw up all over Sixth Avenue, with its Radio City Music Hall magnificence, the big eye-catching red ornaments at the McGraw Hill building, and a festive choo-choo in front of Time Life.
Walk a bit east to Rockefeller Center and there’s this massive tree with lights on it, probably the most famous of its kind in the world. Saks has a light show. Cartier is gift-wrapped with a big red bow. Christmas music is coming out of virtually every speaker in the stores.
And wait, how does that song by Mariah Carey go that seemed to be blaring from the half-dozen or so Salvation Army posts we passed?
All I want for Hanukkah is you …
All I want for Kwanzaa is you …
No, hold on.
All I want for Christmas is you.
Yes, that’s it.
We enjoyed watching the Salvation Army folks jam to the beat, clearly enjoying themselves. One pair of uniformed women happily danced to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Whatever works.
And that’s really my message here. Whatever works.
Why oh why can’t we seem to honor that in this country? If you want to celebrate Christmas publicly and can’t find your way to that, you’re not looking hard enough. Of course, the bigger question is why so many aren’t content with simply finding their holiday meaning within themselves, their families, and their churches. I can find no evidence that Jesus is going to pin a medal on your chest because you developed a persecution complex over the town tree being called a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree.
Want some gingerbread with that whine?
There is a meme making its way around Facebook that makes a powerful point. Here’s what it says:
Why do I wish people “Happy Holidays”?
Because from 1 November to 15 January there are approximately 29 holidays observed by 7 of the world’s major religions.
And I don’t think mine are the only ones that count.
Why isn’t that simple? Why all the ‘us vs. them’ on this topic? Ever think of taking the time to learn a little bit about another’s tradition or belief, or not kicking and screaming because your kid’s school has a multi-faith concert? Isn’t there a point in our lives where we develop spiritual maturity? If an atheist calls it a holiday tree, what does that have to do with me? That’s her truth. If someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah and I don’t celebrate it, who cares? If you’re greeted with “Happy Holidays” by the cashier or the waitress, can’t you smile and say “Thank you, same to you” and be done with it?
Please help me understand where Jesus would have a problem with that and by extension why you do in his name.
I know there are real cases in our country where there is pushback, some schools or public squares that have controversial policies around holiday celebrations. In those instances particularly, I cannot help but wonder this – doesn’t healthy disagreement give you an opportunity to stand firm in your faith? Wouldn’t God find that appealing, you digging deeper into your spiritual core?
Recently President and Mrs. Obama did a lighthearted spot to congratulate A Charlie Brown Christmas on its 50th year.
“They teach us that tiny trees just need a little love, and that on this holiday we celebrate peace on Earth and goodwill toward all,” the President said.
A few childish souls (see suggestion to develop spiritual maturity above) were in a snit because Obama didn’t reference Linus’ famous reading of scripture. After determining I wasn’t looking at a satirical site I sat back in my chair, dismayed we’ve reached this seemingly new low to find something to harp on.
First of all, the lesson of the tiny tree coming to life is one of the most memorable things about A Charlie Brown Christmas. For some of us, it’s the most enduring message of the classic cartoon. Second, it’s clearly universal in its wisdom – wouldn’t it be special if we all nurtured someone or something in need of some love? Third, if the scene with Linus talking about Jesus fills you with joy, isn’t that enough?
I didn’t hesitate to suggest going into St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Kathi despite the fact that she is not Catholic and I am no longer Catholic. We could have just as easily sent up our prayer from a mosque or under a lovely tree in Central Park. The Great Creator doesn’t care.
Don’t agree with that?
I respect your freedom of religion. Say your prayers wherever you choose. Don’t say them at all.
Whatever works, people. Whatever works.