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Maybe there’s snow falling on Christmas Day. Maybe acid rain, or regular rain. Maybe nothing.
Perhaps in your family, you decorate the tree the day after Thanksgiving, or you wait until Christmas Eve, or you drag a still-tinseled artificial tree down from the attic some day, in between a Broncos game.
Or maybe you even call it something else. Or celebrate just a bit differently.
Or, of course, you might not have a tree at all, or care what the weather is like unless you’re hoping to ski or sunbathe or ride your bike to get some donuts for some sugar, since you don’t have any candy canes, only to discover it is, like most businesses, closed.
The winter holidays – Christmas, Hanukah, solstice, the whole secularized bundle – have evolved. Culturally, whatever faith or custom we align with, we’re a little more about shopping than the pioneers, or even the conquistadors, who would have laughed at the tiny Zale’s boxes that please us so.
Individually, without any semblance of universal ideology – although Universalist ideology is growing in popularity – we’re left to our own devices, as they say, be these devices Christmas lights, Menorahs or iPod Nanos.
The celebrator is free to establish his or her own holiday habits, different from those of neighbors, friends, coworkers or parents. We don’t even have to exchange gifts if that’s not “what we do.” And no one knows whether we donate at the Holiday Giving Tree at Whole Foods, or to local charities like Self Help or LA Cares. That’s private.
The only rule? No imposing. This solitary tenet invites its share of ridicule and controversy – especially in public places where religious scenes and symbols sometimes appear. However, in many ways, it represents something very pure and, dare we say, Christmassy.
The original Christian Christmas celebrated belief in a sacred story, one that involved God, angels, miracles and a most unlikely birth in a manger. And belief doesn’t have to be shared, advertised, promoted, enforced, imposed or otherwise – we’ll say the word again – public.
It’s not that conviction should be sly. Many Christians still observe Dec. 25 for the exact same reason as 13th century monks, and in America and other democracies, they can; our liberties ensure we can worship almost limitlessly.
But does reverence truly require a crèche in the park or a Christmas tree in a school? No. It requires only a faithful heart and ebullient spirit.
Somehow, all our craziness over what to call the big tree in Washington, D.C., and other such debates lead us back to that rather old-fashioned truth. They force us to be a little more profound, and maybe even, if we believe in this kind of thing, to consider our mortal souls.