By Wally DuChateau
In the last 50 years, there’s been a significant change in the way we observe the holiday season and especially in the way we celebrate Christmas.
When I was a little kid, many of the retail businesses in Enumclaw and Seattle played Christmas carols – not only seasonal tunes like “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas,” but religious hymns like “Silent Night” and “Come All Ye Faithful.” A few Enumclaw stores offered Christian displays, but these were more common in Seattle’s major department stores, as in the corner windows of the Bon Marché (currently Macy’s) and Frederick and Nelson’s (currently Nordstrom). In particular, I recall one Bon Marché window in which mannequins were used to portray Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the wise men, while angels hovered above on undulating wings and “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” blasted from outdoor speakers.
In those days, television also blatantly pandered to the Christian faith. There was always a special starring Bing Crosby, during which he’d sing his obligatory signature holiday tune and a Christian hymn or two. Perry Como as well. And nearly all the dramatic shows and sit-coms had a Christian theme. Red Skeleton customarily closed his show with the line “May God bless,” but on Christmas his exit line was a bit more elaborate: “May Christ shower his blessings upon you.”
I was too young to realize how discriminatory, even offensive, this may have been to other faiths. Today, such “indiscretions” are obvious. God only knows – no pun intended – what Jews must have felt while strolling through Seattle’s retail center. Or the Buddhists, many of whom had only recently returned from World War II “internment” camps. Or Muslims. Or Hindus. Somewhere in the midst of this Christian hoopla, there may even have been an atheist, but in those days he would be in fear for his life if he spoke up.
Nevertheless, despite the prejudice of those bygone days, I still retain warm and fond memories of such Christian customs. There was a family wholesomeness about them. And yes, believe it or not, beneath all the crass consumerism, even a mood of forgiveness and generosity.
Unfortunately, such nostalgic feelings can generate considerable religious intolerance today. The longing some people have for “those good ol’ days” can result in hostility toward “those other religions” that seem to be “taking over the whole country.” In particular, I occasionally run across some degree of bitterness that’s directed at atheists who – I shouldn’t need to point out – have an inalienable right to believe anything they want, even if it’s nothing.
So, let me remind patriotic and dogmatic Christians that religious intolerance is unAmerican. After all, America was not founded on Christianity. It was founded on religious freedom.
One of the most influential minds of the 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson – the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and much of the Bill of Rights – wasn’t a Christian. Rather, he considered himself a deist; that is, he apparently believed in God and/or a spiritual realm, but didn’t believe there was any interaction between it and man.
At any rate, no matter what belief or nonbelief you may have, we can agree that this is the season of forgiveness and charity and a time to reflect upon out families, children, and those we love, alive or dead. And in this spirit, let me wish all of you a most splendid and happy holiday season. Cheers!