I just received the annual Christmas (not “Holiday”) message from the President of the Evangelical Christian University where I earned my B.A. in Philosophy and Religion. It’s a simple and typical message:
“Tis the season of gathering and giving as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth and move into the new year with a faith that shapes our love for others. May you and your family have a blessed Advent and Christmas season.”
A nice sentiment … though always makes we wonder why it is that Evangelicals seem oblivious to the rest of us who may celebrate the season in other, non-Christian ways, (too many Christmas lights in their eyes perhaps?).
I’ve responded to the college President’s message before and, also typical, never receive a reply, so here’s what I would say this year:
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for the Christmas note and I wish you a happy Christmas as well. You’ll notice that I’m not averse to saying the word “Christmas” and often respond to people who wish me a “Merry Christmas” by repeating the same to them. In fact, I was born on Christmas Day, and served as a minister for many years, leading many Christmas services, so the holiday has a special place in my life and probably always will.
Having explained that, allow me to respond to your message in a wider context. Though I’m a graduate of the college, I am no longer in the Christian Family. Having left my Christian faith, ordination and ministry nearly 20 years ago, I now identify as a freethinker, that is, a secular and humanist person. For me, this season holds an even more wonderful meaning now: it is Christmas as well as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and no doubt many other holidays around the globe. It is a season for much celebration in the Human Family!
Over all of this, in my mind, stands the original, central celebration of the season: Solstice. Nature gives us the amazing, beautiful season of Winter among all the gifts of each and every season of the year. We open the presents of each present moment’s natural gifts of greens, of snowscapes, of wild creatures seeking food or rest. Winter storms bring wildness to our doorsteps and we are awed by the powerful displays.
The chill brings us together to keep warm and share the warmth of our humanity together. We relax, play, eat and share stories of our lives … past and present.
So, Mr. President, I’m not against Christmas or any other celebrations of light, love and life. This is why I wouldn’t assume to wish “Happy Hanukkah” to someone who is not Jewish or “Blessed Christmas” to another who may not celebrate the birth of Jesus. Though Christianity is highly privileged and powerful in our culture, doesn’t it make more sense to think of those many who are not among the privileged and powerful, who may not believe the way we do, and do our best to help them feel included rather than excluded by the wrappings of one religious faith?
It just seems wiser and more thoughtful to wish everyone a “Merry Season” no matter their faith tradition or humanistic, naturalistic joy at this time of year.
I hope that you will keep these things in mind through the seasons ahead, considering that not every one who has a degree from the college shares the same beliefs or worldview.
And, btw, I learned some of this sense of thoughtful, sensitive inclusion while an undergraduate of the school. I appreciate that, and try to practice that conscientiousness, season by season.
All the best in the New Year!