Winter has always been a season that casts stark relief on human life. In many places on the globe, deciduous trees have shed their leaves, leaving only the evergreens to maintain silent vigil in snow blanketed forests. Ice encrusts streams and lakes and even rivers, hiding the once warm and gentle waters under crystal armor. The rolling hills and valleys, once verdant, are now stark and white, and life, while still around, hides from the bitter cold. It is as if the Earth is taking a rest, catching its breath, preparing and plotting for the year to come.
It is no wonder that humankind, over the centuries, regarded Winter as a magical and holy time of year. For it marked the calm before the storm, the riot of growth and life and beauty that would come with melting snow and ice. Given the cold and bleak landscape, is it any wonder that people found reason to celebrate? Lighting fires, sharing food and company, giving thanks for another good year and praying for an even better year to come. Winter was, and is, the time of hope; celebration, cheer, and charity are its children.
The only trouble is, that in modern times we have seen fit to strip the season of its magic, and instead use it as just another time to draw lines between us. It is not enough that we all feel, deep within us, the beauty of the season as we see it through our own eyes and by our own beliefs, but that somehow, how we see and feel it, must be made more or less important than how others do. We can no longer allow the trials and tribulations of the year to lie fallow, to become buried by nature's cloak; we carry them along into what is supposed to be a time of joy and reflection, poisoning our souls a little more.
Does it matter, ultimately, what holiday we choose to celebrate? Can Christmas be made lesser or greater in the eyes of any Christian or Catholic, simply because the Jews celebrate Hanukkah, or some celebrate the Winter Solstice or Kwanzaa? Does the name matter, if in all these cases they are linked by tradition, by sharing, by charity, and by family? Is it so offensive to our ear to be bade "Merry Christmas" when we do not believe in Christ? Is it so maddening to be surrounded by Christmas lights and trees, when one does not partake of the season?
For some, apparently, the answer is "yes." These people see fit to turn a season of joy, hope, and cheer into another reason to grind the edge of their axes even finer. To be surrounded by the beliefs of others, to be forced to tolerate them, brings "humbug" to their lips. They turn any innocent thing, from a lusty greeting of "Happy Holidays!" to the presence of a lights in a window, into more fuel for a maudlin fire. To them, their interpretation of the season is sacrosanct, and all others, blasphemous. "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" might as well be a poison-tipped dart shot into their brain.
To live in a secular and pluralistic nation such as America, it is important to note that each of us is imbued with the freedom to worship and believe as we would, as is everyone else. While we might believe -- somehow -- that our beliefs are superior to those of others in one or many ways, the fact remains that we are free to believe as we choose, and so are they. What is not allowed, is for any one group to impose their beliefs on others. It is a bedrock tenet of our Constitution that the freedom to worship, or not, as one chooses, is protected from interference by the government and by other groups who would use government to interfere.
What this means is that we will all be exposed to things with which we do not agree, or find distasteful, and that we are not required to suffer them or be told that we must observe them. It also means that every other person has that same right, whether we like it or not. So, we must find a way to coexist, knowing that we risk running into things we do not abide. This should be no more true than during the holiday season in Winter, where so many belief systems find a similar bent, though each in its own way. It is best to think in terms of the broader outlines of this season, than of the specific celebrations, for the Winter holidays are generally about renewal, rebirth, joy, charity, and togetherness. However these concepts are expressed is immaterial, compared to the need for their expression, and more importantly, the need for them to extend beyond the holidays.
Let us determine that we will no longer see this season as another reason to divide us, but appreciate it for the conviviality and coming together that it fosters. Let us drink of the spirit of community and ensure that we do all we can to bring our less fortunate brothers and sisters some comfort in their hour of need. It is the time for giving, the time for living, the time for loving. Peace to us all, good will toward all humanity, and let us renew our efforts to bring all of us together in harmony. That is the true meaning of the season.