In recent years, the annual holiday season, historically called Christmas, has become a political, social, and cultural debate within the United States. Different sides of the argument hotly debate the appropriateness of certain words, symbols, figures, and traditions. Often, when “Merry Christmas” is spoken, it is intended simply as warm wishes arising from cultural habit. Holidays need not be contentious. Holidays evolved from rituals, often for religious reasons or cultural celebration. The annual Christmas season is not unique to the United States and has a long history of ritual steeped in religious significance. What may be unique to the U.S. is the evolution of this holiday as a broader celebration, honoring a spirit of goodwill, with a backdrop of the religious story behind these cultural traditions, without necessarily forcing the specific Judeo-Christian interpretation on its citizens.
Christmas is a cultural history that has evolved. For those to whom Christmas is a powerfully personal religious tradition, this broader context does not have to cause concern, but rather provides each individual the opportunity to focus on celebrating not only a holy day, but also to celebrate the freedom of religion intentionally guaranteed in the United States Constitution. What may be more useful than debate and political correctness at this time of year is to acknowledge that the holiday evolved from a tradition many citizens do consider holy, and no one in the U.S.is forced to accept that religious significance for themselves. As a cultural holiday, it diminishes the value of our freedom to force silence and contentiously argue about perspectives. Religious symbols and rituals are embedded in the U.S. cultural tradition of Christmas. If we remind ourselves that none of us are forced to embrace that particular religious significance, then we honor both the spirit of Christmas and the history of it in the U.S. that guarantees the freedom to practice any religion or none. This Christmas, if the religious significance is important, then honor it and remember to give thanks for the freedom to do so. If it isn’t, then embrace the broader spirit of goodwill and celebrate the freedom in “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, remembering the historical Christmas story is not ever forced on any resident of the U.S. as their own personal faith. That is something we can all celebrate!