Last week I went to my two granddaughters' preschool Christmas parties. There were more parents and grandparents than kids. Lots of pictures, presents and the kind of treats we only see at Christmas. Maybe I should say “holidays.”
Children who are 3 and 4 years old do not understand the significance of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Nor do they understand the way the holiday has expanded from sometime during Thanksgiving Day (when the stores open) or that dreadful term “Black Friday” (sounds like the plague or something), which officially kicks off the Christmas gift buying season.
It was fun seeing and hearing the kids sing the old songs. I don’t think many were religious, but there was one Hanukkah song. But if you think about what these children get from the songs, the culture and the barrage on TV, you wonder what the future of the winter celebration might become.
Will we one day be celebrating the birth of Frosty, or will there be red-nosed reindeer in the stable? Will sleigh bells and rides become mandatory, or will they be banned from schools?
Thinking about the children and their impression of the Christmas or winter holiday season, I wonder if today's imaginations will become the beliefs of future. Today our cultural picture of a Christmas holiday is based upon Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol,” published in 1843. This seems to be where the nostalgic images of Christmas traditions, parties, family reunions and Christmas trees begin.
But the religious Christmas traditions celebrating the birth of Jesus actually began in the fourth century as a feast (Christ’s Mass). And many Christmas customs started independently of Jesus' birth beginning with pre-Christian festivals that were celebrated around the winter solstice by pagans. These elements, including the Yule log and gift giving, began with the Roman Saturnalia and were absorbed into Christmas over the centuries.
The prevailing traditions and culture of Christmas have continually evolved since the holiday's inception, ranging from a quite religious observance, to sometimes raucous, drunken parties, to the family-oriented and children-centered themes beginning in the 1800s.
Our modern world of movies, cartoons, music, TV and newspapers has added the North Pole, Frosty, flying red-nosed reindeer, Charlie Brown, Santa Claus, and “It's a Wonderful Life” to the imagination. This is amplified by commercial interests telling us our friends, kids, fellow workers and neighbors must receive gifts or greeting cards available in stores or online. And for the lazy or unimaginative among us — gift certificates.
As time passed from the birth of Jesus to 300 or 400 years later and the Bible and establishment of the Christian church, the celebration of a birthday has drifted from a story about a simple birth in a stable, an event lost in history, to the fluff of interpretation.
Facts do not particularly wear well with the passage of time. Does anyone actually know the true story of Jesus? Is any religious story any better than another? And aren’t facts often replaced by myth? Moreover, the story of any particular religion or belief is easily dismissed by others as a fairy tale.
So now as time passes, will our current interpretation of the Christmas season and Jesus change? Imagine, the morphing of our current celebration into future celebrations. Maybe not today but perhaps 200 years from now telling the Christmas story might become how Santa Claus was the father of a sacred savior or Charlie Brown was born in a cradle with red-nosed reindeer nearby and attended by wise visiting snowmen on camels.
But now in 2012, what do we in the United States celebrate in this winter season? Yes, some of us celebrate the birth of Jesus, but more than anything else we celebrate family. We celebrate togetherness, kindness, forgiveness, hope, joy and love, and we pray for peace and prosperity for all.
Some say there is some sort of war on Christmas — apparently by disrespecting the religious aspects. But with the growth of the holiday from one day per year to about a month from Thanksgiving sales up to Dec. 25, how can it be said that the birth of Jesus is not celebrated? If nothing else, the Christian holiday brings us together, and all faiths can celebrate the particular holiday or Hanukkah or whatever brings us together.
So in the spirit of the season, season’s greetings, happy holidays or merry Christmas. Whatever you like best.
Carrico is a San Diego attorney and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.