Christmas shopping is not fun anymore. I used to love it. We'd make our lists and at 9 a.m. or 2 p.m. or some other decent hour (not 4 a.m.) we'd get bundled up in coats and boots and mittens, drive downtown (no, not to the mall), and walk from store to store along snow-covered sidewalks. We'd buy gifts until we couldn't possibly carry any more, then we'd meet back at the car to stow them in the trunk and head out to buy some more.
There was a Salvation Army Santa ringing his bell on almost every street corner and we'd drop some change in each red bucket as we passed (yes, change was actually worth something then). Christmas carols (real ones like Silent Night and Joy to The World) played over the P.A. system in every store.
We actually said "Merry Christmas" to perfect strangers on the street, and store clerks said it to us, because it was (and is) the appropriate greeting during this joyful season.
We had a huge Christmas tree in the town square. It was topped with a star and everyone, from the smallest child to the oldest Grandpa, knew that that star represented the Star of Bethlehem. Around the bottom of the tree church choirs took turns singing and gifts for needy families were collected in a huge box.
There was a life-size Nativity Scene on the courthouse lawn and groups of carolers strolled along the sidewalks singing for the sheer joy of it. Celebrating the birth of Christ was the appropriate thing to do, because back then it was okay to admit that we were Christians and Christmas was (and is) a Christian religious holiday.
Nowadays we shop in our shirtsleeves in air-conditioned malls. We don't dare stow gifts in the car trunk because it gets too hot for the electronic gizmos and plastic toys, not to mention that they'd probably get stolen before we could get back inside the mall.
Half of the stores these days have banned the Salvation Army Santas as politically incorrect and the store P.A. systems blare secular ditties like "Santa Baby" and "Mr. Grinch." The clerks are instructed to say only "Happy Holidays" and it's obvious they take no joy in it.
Cities are being sued for displaying nativity scenes and believers are afraid to celebrate lest someone of another faith takes offense. But isn't all of this a little out of hand?
I think it's great that our county government closes its offices for Jewish holidays as well as Christian ones. I'm glad that our calendars now list those holidays as well as Muslim ones.
We all need to be free to observe our religious holidays according to our treasured traditions, whatever they may be. After all, our bill of rights allows all Americans freedom of religion, even if your "religion" is atheism.
However, we need to be sure everyone recognizes that what our constitution guarantees is freedom "of" religion, not freedom "from" religion. If that's what you want, then you're free to go find it, but don't bother looking here, cause in the USA that's not what we're about.
The ways we celebrate Christmas may not be the same as they were when I was young, but we still believe it's important to allow believers of all faiths to observe their own religious holidays in their own way.
That means I can shop till I drop and greet everyone with a hearty "Merry Christmas." I can sing carols about the newborn Messiah, and I can display a nativity scene in my front yard if I want to, because I live in America, where I'm free to celebrate Christmas as a holy day, not just a holiday.