In a nation that prohibits the establishment of religion, Christmas is a national holiday. Thus, the would-be warriors in defense of the celebration of their Messiah’s birth must be compelled, if not convinced, to respect all manner of observance for our American Christmas holiday. They can believe the Christmas story in their heart of hearts to their hearts’ content even while insisting that the secular and/or non-Christian Americans share in the holiday and refrain from their non-essential labors. But there is absolutely no obligation on the rest of us to celebrate the way believers require of themselves. They simply cannot have it both ways; and that must ever be their tragedy, not ours.
Honestly, from where I sit, Christmas has always been someone else’s holiday. One time, when my parents let me wait in line for a visit with the department store Santa Claus, I even admitted to the jolly old elf that we did not expect him and his generosity at our house. Since then, like anyone else along the path to modern northern American adulthood, I built up a fond collection of memories around the regular sights, sounds and smells of the winter holidays. Without Christmas it would not be winter, as much as it wouldn’t be summer without the 4th of July. As long as the country’s lawmakers made it a holiday for all of us, I will observe — no, celebrate! — the holiday I have come to love in the way I love to celebrate it.
I love Chanuka — lighting the candles, putting down bets in a game of dreidel, devouring latkes and salsa — despite its commemoration of triumph by a cruelly incompetent Hasmonean dynasty (and it’s dubious role as “the Jewish Christmas”). And in my own way I love the trappings of Christmas, too. I love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and the Charlie Brown TV special, especially the Vince Guaraldi Trio musical score. In fact, I enjoy many if not most of the carols and the colorful lights, either reflected in the snow or in the tinseled and decorated trees in my friends’ homes. I even get a kick out of the ritual exchanges of gifts and goodies, if not the months-long onslaught of crass corporate commercialism that drives that part of it.
I also appreciate the ubiquitous opportunities to mock and ridicule messianic redemption theology — although I do that all year long in the context of my native Judaica, anyway, but that is mostly because the messianic redemption theology invented by Jewish establishments under ancient occupations is arguably the worst idea in the history of an otherwise rich and evolving Jewish civilization. The traditional Yuletide is kind of an innocent bystander; just another institution whose origins are buried beneath countless generations worth of passive acceptance of cultural habit.
In sum, if you make the accepted birthday of your savior a national holiday in a nation with no state religion, then you must deal with every conceivable way that your fellow citizens may celebrate it. You don’t get to tell your secular fellow citizens how to celebrate, or otherwise observe, a national holiday. And if you don’t want every non-believer observing your religious holiday in any way they choose, no matter how profane, then maybe you should have kept your faith out of everyone else’s face, instead of trying to ram it down our throats.