Let us, for the duration of the holidays, banish this talk of a war on Christmas. Americans have always squabbled over Christmas, its meaning, its proper celebration, going back to the Puritans who banned it.
Instead, let us think about the secular reason behind the creation — “invented” is too hard and cold a word — of the modern American Christmas. In the 19th century, writers, scholars and clergy began the transformation of a relatively restrained holy day, the feast of the Nativity, into something much larger and gaudier, and they did so with a laudable goal in mind — national unity.
The idea was to have a true national holiday that united the different traditions, cultures and ethnicities of a largely immigrant country. And they succeeded: 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas in one way or another.
If a menorah is in the public square next to the creche and the Christmas tree — a pagan custom, by the way — so be it. That’s the way the great public thinkers who healed the nation riven by a civil war wanted it. We are one people with one holiday that we are free to celebrate as we see fit and encouraged to share with others.
Having Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid al-Adha and the Orthodox Christmas all wrapped up into one great festival, a rich and exhilarating mix of the sacred and the secular, the commercial and the birth of Jesus, may be unnerving, but it is so very American.
The sacred Christmas is as old as the Gospels. The secular Christmas owes much to two rather more modern authors, Clement Moore and “The Night Before Christmas” and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Let us combine the two in closing and join with Tiny Tim in saying, “God bless us everyone,” and the angel in Luke — and we will entertain no charges of sexism here — in wishing for “peace on Earth, good will toward men.” Merry Christmas.