Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Final thoughts on the holiday

December 28, 2004


With Christmas behind us for another year, celebrants might concede that non-Christians do have a point.

The super-sizing of Christmas has become a tinseled monument to excess that pleases no one but America's retailers. Nothing makes my heart sink faster than trundling into CVS for Halloween candy only to find a fake silver Christmas tree festooned with red bows.

I can't bear the sound of "Jingle Bells" more than two weeks in advance of Christmas nor one minute after. And the sight of a wilted poinsettia or a browning bundle of mistletoe even one second after New Year's sends me searching for the Prozac fairy.

It is one thing to love Christmas; it is another to be suffocated by it.

On the other hand, it is useful as we debate the merits and demerits of Christmas in these secular times to imagine a world without Christmas or the gifts bestowed in Jesus' name. I'm not talking about colored lights and trees, or wreaths, or gifts, or raids on Toys R Us.

I'm talking about all the wonders of our world that were inspired by and wrought in the name of the man known as Jesus Christ. Whether one believes in his divinity -- and I'm not here to debate that -- Jesus' birth two millennia ago in Bethlehem produced or influenced most of what we call Western civilization.

No small feat for a mere mortal.

And the Christ in Christmas gave us our notions of chivalry, noblesse oblige and charity. The Christian concept of charity, and loving both one's neighbors and one's enemies, was and is a radical concept. The idea that the poor and diseased were deserving of human dignity also was born of Christianity.

Obviously, an itemized list of the ideas and creations that gild our heritage vis-a-vis Christianity would fill a thousand columns and more. They fill libraries after all. Without them, Europe would cease to be a tourist destination, or might never have become at all.

Which is not to say that the world's other major religions haven't contributed to the good and greatness of mankind. Read Thomas Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews" for a primer on all we have to be grateful for, not least of which -- just to whet your appetite -- is the "weekend."

Islam is credited with advances in mathematics, medical innovations and with translating the ancient Greek texts. For art and architecture, look no further than ninth century Cordoba, Spain, which the conquering Moors made their capital city.

Christmas, nevertheless, is unique because Jesus was unique, as confirmed by the fact that Westerners measure historical time by his life and death. Were he merely a man, the Western world would be populated with statues dedicated to his immense influence.

Imagine a Jesus in every town square. Instead, we have movements and lawsuits and edicts dedicated to his removal from any public sphere.

I can't agree more with critics that by commercializing Christmas, we've done more to evict Christ from his day of celebration than have atheists and activists. I also agree that we should do better.

For it is a fact that of all the babies born and placed in mangers owing to a lack of room (not to mention charity) in Bethlehem -- or all of Judea -- during a census, only one of them is responsible for Western civilization.

Even in the absence of Jesus' divinity, celebrating his birthday seems a small gesture by comparison.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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