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I glanced at the newspaper on Wednesday afternoon, looking for some distraction from the rain pelting my already darkened windows. When I read the headline article "Putting Christ back in Christmas," I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. To think that, in the face of so much suffering and injustice in our world, people could fret even a moment over whether a department store sign read "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" (when the subtext in either case was really "spend more money") seemed tragically comic.
The paid advertisement emboldening with a constitutional right those who wished to sing religious Christmas carols at school or yell "Merry Christmas" at someone whether they liked it or not, I found even more chilling, especially when referring to our country's separation of church and state as "so called." Had these people no knowledge of history? No understanding of the kinds of atrocities committed in the name of Christ when backed by a government "mandate?" Even Jesus himself recommended that his followers "render under Caesar" and did not involve himself in political debates, but rather attended to the needs of the poor and suffering.
I myself am a Christian, although lately I cringe at the manner in which my tradition has been co-opted by the kind of narrow minded fundamentalism which I deeply oppose. Specifically, I am an Anglican, and enjoy belting out "The Holly and the Ivy" and "The Boar's Head Carol," songs which rarely if ever find their way into schools, and that's probably fine. But I'm also so proud and pleased when my 5-year-old daughter comes home insisting that we light a makeshift menorah, fanning the smoke solemnly over her head and saying "God is all around us." At her young age, she has learned the word "tradition," and understands that there are many traditions all over the world. Yes.
Especially at this time of year - in the bleak mid-winter - we all of us look up into the heavens, searching for some light, some hope. It is no coincidence that so many celebrations occur in December - Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Solstice, along with Christmas. Jesus was not actually born on Dec. 25 and I don't think that he cares if we call our office party a "Christmas party" or an "end of the year party." I think he cares that we are kind to one another, and open-hearted. No one belief system has the right to claim this season as their own. We are fortunate to live in a country founded on freedom of belief. When I say, "Happy Holidays" to someone I don't know well, my goal is not to be "politically correct." It's a way of showing respect for all people, and putting aside my own prideful tendency to be the one who's "right," by golly.
My hope is that groups who have the energy and financial means to organize themselves around a cause use their resources for doing some good - feed the hungry, tend the sick, come to the aid of the poor and lonely. Such acts of kindness, however small and humble, contain for me the true meaning of a holiday which for many is symbolized by a star. May we all - whether Muslim or Jew, Christian or Zoroastrian - find peace and comfort in the beginning of lighter days. May this light bring us some clarity and allow us to let go of our fear of not having all the answers.
Joyce Parry Moore is a voice teacher and operates a nonprofit performing group in Juneau.