One of my closest friends always makes it a point to wish me a Merry Christmas. There would be nothing remarkable about that except for the fact that he's Jewish and he understands that the closest thing I have to a religion is the Green Bay Packers.
And yet it's nice to hear that greeting. From him it's a gentle acknowledgment of what some folks like to call my "faith tradition," if not my present lack of faith reality. I like to think of myself as a cultural Catholic. I don't buy into any of the dogma, but I canâ€™t get away from fish fries and guilt.
Of course, from his side of the equation, he doesn't accept the ostensible reason for the season either. So here we are, neither of us Christians for different reasons, sharing a very Christian greeting.The point is that we don't need a specific religious tradition in order to justify a celebration at this time of year. Pre-Christian cultures held festivities around the solstice and the early church just appropriated those holidays. So if you want to be technical about it, those lawn signs should read "Keep the Druids in Christmas."
So when I wish someone a Merry Christmas, I'm not making any kind of literal statement regarding theology. Whatever your faith tradition or lack of it might be, the Christmas story is about hope. It's about the idea of birth and rebirth, exactly at a time in the northern hemisphere when everything appears to be dead. It is literally lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. Believe what you want about the bigger picture -- celebrations around this time of year are about human resilience in the face of adversity.
So, for a week or so here, let's put away the culture wars and the politicization of the holiday, and just go out (or stay in) and appreciate the light.