There's something beautiful about the traditional Christmas story. In the dark and cold of winter, a pregnant woman and her husband of humble means find themselves with no place to stay but the stable of a crowded inn. So that is where the baby is born, and despite the modest surroundings and cruel, cold world outside, it is a time of sublime joy and love and warmth and togetherness.
It's never mattered to me much that the baby was or wasn't of special divine nature; the birth of any baby is miraculous enough to warrant celebration, and for passing shepherds and wise men from afar to arrive bearing gifts seems fitting in any event. The central point of it all, for me, was to share that joy when we need it most, the deepest darkest night of the year, and especially so here in the frigid North.
So this nonsense about a "war on Christmas" disturbs me. I understand feeling threatened when government-sponsored religious displays are banned, but the war-rhetoric is never constructive. The wars on terror, crime, drugs, poverty, AIDS and anything else you'd care to name are badly misnamed, and the war paradigm leads us to adopt inappropriate and ineffective tactics. How much more so, then, to rush into war-thinking over whether or not we say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"?
I appreciate how seductively attractive war is. We don't admit it in polite company, but the fact is we like war. General Sherman is said to have remarked at the Battle of Fredericksburg that it's a good thing war is so terrible, else we'd love it too much. There's no doubt lots of people, even pacifists, are fascinated with weapons and warfare, and enjoy playing war games or watching war movies. But besides that attraction, war seems to give us license to ease our moral constraints, and feel righteous about doing so. So much more so when we feel we are the victims, that the other side has started this war against us, as in the War on Terror and, it seems, the War on Christmas.
But what can possibly be more destructive to the spirit of Christmas than embracing the imagery of war, even in its supposed defense? How is it Christ-like, let alone Christmassy, to reject warm holiday wishes because they don't affirm your particular religious beliefs?
There is no orchestrated campaign to eradicate Christmas. There's just a rule being enforced that you can't spend public funds on promoting a particular religion. That shouldn't be a problem for Christmas; if anything, it's more of an opportunity to stay true to its mythic origins, when there was no room at the inn, and the sharing of warmth and joy took place in the humble, makeshift surrounding of a stable.