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Making rather merry at Christmastime

Don’t let the unseasonably mild weather fool you: Christmas is upon us. Some of us, like Bing Crosby, may be dreaming of that white Christmas, but that picture-postcard moment is likely to elude us this year.

Nonetheless, it’s still the season to be jolly. If it’s any consolation, snow is a rarity, if it ever shows up at all, in a good chunk of the world that celebrates the significance of Dec. 25 – a white Christmas is only the stuff of movies and songs.

There remain plenty of reminders that the yuletide season is here, from the festive lighting right through to the gift catalogues oh-so-subtly strewn about the house.

Of course, the picture wouldn’t be complete without some controversy over the appropriateness of Christmas in our pluralistic society. You can always count on someone making a stink about the placement of Christmas trees in public places followed by a backlash from the public. Sensitivities are running particularly high now in a climate of terrorist threats – real or otherwise.

From saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” to opting for “Frosty the Snowman” over “Silent Night” – if any tune at all – efforts at political correctness are here to stay.

Filled with sentiment, Christmas for many of us is linked to very strong memories. Celebrating the yuletide season meant time spent with family and friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen all year. There were family recipes, rituals – skating parties, midnight strolls or maybe a must-watch movie – and favourite carols. And then there were the presents: childhood memories are full of special items plucked out from under the tree where Santa had been busy the night before.

Ironically, that typical list often omits the Christ in Christmas. In fact, it’s commercialization that in many ways makes Christmas what it is. Without all the hype, which seems to begin while the Halloween pumpkins are still warm on the sill, the buildup we’ve come to love might not be so grand.

From a theological standpoint, Christmas has far less significance than Easter, yet Christian culture places far more weight on the former. Even Easter, with the rabbit and his chocolate, has fallen prey to commercial interests, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The religious component is a relatively small part of the public image of both holidays, but that doesn’t preclude those of faith from keeping it as they wish, as a story in this week’s issue notes. All the secular trappings serve to make the holidays – holy days – more festive. One could also argue the hoopla keeps them front and center in our society, making them a time of great happiness and expectation for children, who will come to understand the greater significance.

That, of course, brings us to a very important word in the debate over making Christmas more politically correct: tradition.

An attack on those traditions is an attack on our deepest sentiments and happiest memories. Secular or religious, any attempt to alter Christmas hits at the one thing many of us equate with blissful feelings of goodwill. It’s no wonder we get upset.

Today, those of us who partake of Christmas do so in our own way, often with traditions of our own – no one can take that away. Go out and have a Merry Christmas.

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