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January 6, 2006

Non-Christian Christians Among Us

Roy Meachum

Calendars seldom carry reminders that today is Twelfth Night, the official end of holidays that concelebrate the birth of Jesus and New Year's arrival. This is also called Epiphany.

When church fathers were figuring out where to place Christmas, they settled deliberately on a date that would divert from the pagan feast held to mourn the sun's death on the shortest day of the year. Called Walpurgisnacht by Germans, it featured abandoned dance, drunkenness and sexual depravity.

Secular historians figure that Mary gave birth to Christ when warmer days prevailed; they point out the logical Romans would have scarcely conducted the world census described in the New Testament during weather dominated by possible snow, sharp winds and cold. Forget assumptions the Holy Land may be a constantly warm dessert, as many think; it ain't.

Placing Christmas in the position to divert from pagan revelry put it smack dab against the start of New Year, as decreed by Julius Caesar before the first nativity. (Pope Gregory XIII's 16th century's calendar revision left the pairing of the feast days intact.)

Before the arrival of political correctness on the scene, people were saying "Happy Holiday." The notion that the phrase was meant to denigrate Christmas is far-fetched, at least. There is no evidence of an organized effort to secularize the holiday in order to accommodate non-Christians.

In my life I have been wished "Gut Yontiff (Good holy day)" by Jews when they celebrated their faith's special occasions. I have exchanged with Muslims on their feasts "Qulla sa'ana wa ente tayib (Roughly: May each year also be fine for you. It is really untranslatable)."

On my part, after mid-December I am prone to wish one and all "Merry Christmas" as Pushkin promenades me through the streets. My Jewish and Muslim friends return exactly the same words, with no hesitation.

When Christmas passes, I begin to sling around "Happy New Year," but never say "Happy Holidays," which strikes me as very bland. My desire to share the season's joy demands more.

On the other hand, I accept some folks may be uncomfortable, fearful of insulting others; I have no right to impose my feelings on them. In contrast to other opinions you've read or heard, I believe they may be better "Christians" because they try not to hurt others, as Jesus taught.

It is ridiculous to assume a failure to say "Merry Christmas" amounts to a calculated act aimed at destroying the day's religious importance. That's not how things work in this country. They should call a cop. There are laws against attacking anyone's creed.

Quite the contrary! Those who charge conspiracy to diminish the most joyful day for the followers of Jesus seem guilty of seeking to impose their view of God on those who disagree. They are modern descendents of Crusaders, who brandished swords to convert or to kill men and women reluctant to give up their faith and swear allegiance to the cross. Their children were not always exempted from slaughter, in Christ's name.

If serious about reversing Christmas's increasing secularization, then the anti-Happy Holidays crowd must picket stores that once offered trees, colorful lights and Santas for Thanksgiving but now begin at Halloween. They should fight for laws that forbid advertising wars that feed the human tendency to want more and more. Covetousness or greed, take your pick. Both sins run rampant in winter's first days.

To be truly true to their positions, critics of the tradition of saying "Happy Holidays" should become latter-day Puritans and give up their wealth, wear plain clothes, eat simple food and abstain from sex except for purposes of procreation.

The greatest stumbling block they face, however, is the puritanical requirement for humility in all matters, casting egos aside in the search for spiritual well-being. That will never happen, of course.

As another Epiphany passes, in commemoration of the three kings' discovery of the stable in Bethlehem, we say goodbye to holidays marred - if not really crippled - by yet more examples of humans' need to inflict intolerance on others.

Disguising themselves as true and faithful Christians, there are men and women guilty of transgressing against Jesus' first and foremost rule that people should love one another, which means the kindness to understand when we cannot agree.

What a pity!

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