Pardon my Christmas faux pas

Have you noticed the volume of media attention Christmas Day has drawn? The controversy began in earnest last year, but the noise is so loud this season I think it's affecting us.

I watch TV for my major input of news and, boy oh boy, has the discussion been interesting. For example, I've learned that the Christmas tree might be referred to as the "holiday tree."

Even the greeting of "Merry Christmas" might be pronounced as "Merry X-mas." Or, more generically, "Happy Holiday."

It's enough to make me crazy! I question these debates by well-known, highly educated, huge-salaried individuals which go on and on without anyone ever tumbling to the fact that an unemotional look at the undisputed historical truth underlying the matter knocks all their arguments right in the head.

All this hoopla made me curious about the many world religions and their historical beginnings. And what about those with no religion? Do you know the difference between an agnostic and an atheist?

If you are an agnostic, you profess an uncertainty or a healthy skepticism about the existence of God or a higher being.

If you are an atheist, you do not believe in the existence of God or any other higher power. Ten years ago, Madalyn Murray O'Hair was the best-known atheist in America. I do not know who replaced her.

Skepticism about the Christmas story is nothing new. In the 1790s, the famous political theorist, Thomas Paine, set off a flap when he wrote that the doctrine of the virgin birth was "blasphemously obscene."

What is new, however, is the widespread effort to either publicly silence or sanitize the essentially religious message of Christianity.

Crosses, creches, carols-all are being challenged in the courts as never before. Jay Leno even joked last year that there's a move afoot to rename the classic Macy's Santa movie "Coincidence at 34th Street."

Christmas doesn't have nearly the American tradition that it's given credit for. Some may know that its observance was considered a sin and an insult to God by the Pilgrims. A fine was actually attached to the prohibition in the early colonies.

Research shows that the custom of Christmas didn't gain wide acceptance until after the Civil War, and was not established as a national holiday until A.D. 1890.

In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," which was later published as "The Night Before Christmas." Moore is credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus as a jolly fat man in a red suit.

The image of Santa Claus that's so familiar-with the white hair, beard and red suit-was hatched as part of a Coca-Cola campaign in the 1930s.

High school students generally hear about Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" between church and state, but typically never learn that during his presidency, church services were held in the United States Treasury, the Congress and inside the Supreme Court chambers.

As James Hutson, chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, summarized it: "It's no exaggeration to say that, on Sundays in Washington, D.C., during Thomas Jefferson's presidency, the state became the church."

Although unorthodox in his own beliefs, Jefferson was typical of the founders in this sense: he considered religion, especially Christianity, essential to democracy.

The consensus of America's greatest political generation was that self-government required citizens of virtue, and virtue depended largely on religious belief.

James Madison extolled Christianity as a "precious gift" to the young nation, while George Washington considered religion and morality "indispensable supports" to republican government.

John Adams used his inaugural address to remind Americans that "a decent respect for Christianity was among the best recommendations for public service."

I leave it to the individual of the following religions to make their case. I provided a few basic facts.

If you happen to be Jewish, your faith was founded by Abraham about 4,000 years ago.

If you are a Hindu, your religion developed in India about 3,500 years ago.

If you are a Buddhist, your religion split from Hinduism. It was founded by Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama of India, about 500 B.C.

If you are a Roman Catholic, Jesus, The Christ, began your religion in the year 33.

If you are Islamic, Mohammed started your religion in Saudi Arabia around A.D. 600

If you are Eastern Orthodox, your sect separated from Roman Catholicism around A.D. 1,000.

If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-Catholic monk, in A.D. 1517.

If you belong to the Church of England, Anglican, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII in 1534. He wanted the Pope to grant him a divorce, with the right to remarry.

If you are a Presbyterian, your religion was founded when John Knox brought the teachings of John Calvin to Scotland in A.D. 1560.

If you are Unitarian, your religious group developed in Europe in the 1500s.

If you are a Congregationalist, your religion branched off from Puritanism in the early 1600s in England.

If you are a Baptist, you owe the tenets of your religion to John Smyth, who launched it in Amsterdam in 1607.

If you are a Methodist, your religion was founded by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1744.

If you are an Episcopalian, your religion was brought overseas from England to the American Colonies and formed a separate religion founded by Samuel Seabury in 1789.

If you are a Mormon, Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith started your church in Palmyra, N.Y., in 1830.

If you worship with The Salvation Army, your sect began with William Booth in London in 1865.

If you are a Christian Scientist, you look to 1879 as the year your religion was founded by Mary Baker Eddy.

If you are a Jehovah's Witness, your religion was founded by Charles Taze Russell in Pennsylvania in the 1870s.

If you are Pentecostal, your religion was started in the United States in 1901.

Many Americans, it seems, regard Kwanzaa as culturally important as Christmas. It's a black-identity movement created in 1966 by activist Maulana Karenga. It is not celebrated as a holiday by any countries in Africa.

These are but a sample of the population of world religions, faiths, sects or beliefs. No wonder a debate has erupted over the usage of Merry Christmas. We better get out our language translator to learn a bunch of new greetings to utter throughout the year as we smile at sale clerks.

One last comment: If you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, cite me chapter and verse where the Bible says Jesus was born on Dec. 25. You can't. Because it doesn't.

So perhaps we should all chill out about Dec. 25 being an ancient Christian sacred date that doesn't belong to anybody else. The festival of the winter solstice long predates Christianity and Christmas. Celebrating the one doesn't negate the other.

A democratic state is not, of course, required to believe. But the story of our particular democracy cannot be understood apart from this narrative of faith. Government must not "establish" this religion, or any other, but neither should it banish any hint of Christianity's influence over our common public lives. At the very least, our leaders owe it their public respect.

The greatest generation of Americans understood the value of public reverence. "Here, at home, we will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way because of its deep spiritual meaning to us," President Franklin Roosevelt told our nation on Christmas Eve 1944. "Because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives and because we want our youngest generation to grow up knowing the significance of this tradition and the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace."

If that sentiment amounts to religious zeal, perhaps America would be a stronger and a more just society with more of it, not less.

See you next year.

Bernie Sadowski is a freelance writer living in Magnolia. Write him at[[In-content Ad]]