You see these signs in a few front yards around town that read, "Let's keep Christ in Christmas."
Actually, Christians expropriated the holiday from pagans who celebrated the winter solstice with lights and carrying on long before Jesus showed up. Even the Christmas tree derives from a pre-Christian pagan tradidtion. So, if you really want to bring Christmas back to its roots, you'd do best to look to the Druids and their mistletoe for inspiration.
But what all these celebrations have in common, whether it's Christmas or Chanukah or pagan celebrations that predated all of them, is the idea of light.
In the northern hemisphere, this is the very darkest and coldest time of the year. And into that darkness we bring manmade lights. Not only do we do that, but we come together in all kinds of gatherings among coworkers, friends and family. Usually those gatherings are around some source of light: a Christmas tree, a menorah, a crackling hearth.
What's common about holidays at this time of year is warmth and light, and their contrast with the cold and dark of nature outside. The common theme is that we're lighting a candle against the darkness, reminding ourselves that when everything around us is dead, we're still not just alive, but very much alive. We had the good sense to store away the summer's produce, and enjoy it now and in great quantities.
And this year in America that's more true than ever. What could be more dark than the senseless murders of twenty innocent little kids and their brave teachers right before the holidays? It's no accident that we traditionally start to heal this kind of atrocity with some sort of candlelight vigil.
So, for me at least, Christmas isn't about religion at all. Just the opposite, in fact. For me, Christmas is a celebration of all that's good in the human spirit, our abilities to plan ahead, to make light and warmth that gets us comfortably through the cold to another growing season, and to set aside our differences for a brief period. It's when we remind ourselves of our common humanity, and of what we can accomplish when we come together.
So, whatever it is you're celebrating this time of year, despite the literal and figurative darkness that surrounds us, let's bring some light into the world.