|A favorite of mine: "Little Drummer Boy."|
Eventually we as a society had to restrain some of the Christmas zeal and let the non-Christians have some more real "space." I don't think we (the kids) would have had any problem with those who might want to distance themselves. But would it be the kids' own decision (to withdraw) or their parents?
My opinion: The singing of Christmas songs and the various other trappings of Christmas are not "indoctrination." I think they can be viewed as innocuous. They are uplifting. But there's no point in compelling anyone.
We then went from giving non-Christians their "space" to having to openly acknowledge non-Christian faiths at holidaytime. Public school Christmas programs began to include gestures toward "Kwanzaa." I'd rather see no religious element at all. Late December is a time for Christians to rejoice. Christmas "is what it is." You can acknowledge it and watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or you can be non-religious and go about your own affairs.
Jewish people justifiably mark Hanukkah, about which I have to admit knowing very little. I had a first cousin convert to Judaism late in his life. He had been a very committed Christian previously, to the point where he had some sort of clergy credential. "He dressed up in robes," a family member remarked once. He then adopted Judaism. He reportedly said of Christianity: "I don't understand it."
Those words stuck in my head because I sort of agree. I had a Christian proselytizer say to me once: "Has any other man ever risen from the dead?" The answer is no. How can we accept as fact that any such thing ever happened?
I went to Alexandria to see that movie about the Nativity about a decade ago. This movie was intended to make a big splash. As it turned out, it didn't have staying power. It didn't move me. It actually came off as rather bizarre, just as the story of the virgin birth with its angels and the like, can be seen as bizarre. It seems like a drug-induced fantasy, to be blunt. But believers are undeterred.
Those of us who graduated from college might remember Campus Crusade for Christ or Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Reportedly the Crusade just goes by the name "Cru" now. I once met a family near Donnelly in which the parents first met through their involvement with "Cru." They are gentle and considerate people, these "Crusaders," but sometimes it seems their eyes are a little glazed over.
I have a harder time accepting things on faith. So does my old boss at the Morris newspaper, Jim Morrison. (I think he was my boss although it was hard to figure out who you worked for there.)
Obviously, Jews should have total breathing room to mark "Hanukkah." But it has nothing to do with Christmas. So it seems a little perverse to see little kids have to devote portions of the "Christmas" program either to Judaism, "Kwanzaa" or whatever. I put "Kwanzaa" in quotes because I consider it rather a pseudo-religious holiday. It wasn't even developed in Africa.
Obviously the Christmas program at First Lutheran Church was totally religious in its focus. Churches can do that, naturally, and there was a time when public schools were given lots of latitude to do that. The world has changed, or America has changed. Kids get their "holiday break" now, not "Christmas break."
By no means am I suggesting there's a "war on Christmas." My mindset is anathema to Bill O'Reilly and Fox News. I'm just saying that when us boomers were young, we expected those few non-Christians among us to just join in with the Christmas stuff and enjoy it - enjoy the pervasive spirit of the holiday. No need to adopt our religion. Eventually voices rose up insisting on real separation. Again, it's the parents more than the kids who would insist on this. Especially parents who are college professors.
One of the concerns about "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when it was made, was that it was too overtly Christian. Of course it was resoundingly successful, no doubt because of the innocence of the children characters. I suspect its success was also due to how unabashed it was about recognizing Christmas - its essence and its focus on the virgin birth. "Linus" read dutifully from the Bible. You could see the kids were uplifted. It's a delight to view this stuff even if you don't proclaim Christianity.
A lesser-known TV special is "The Little Drummer Boy." Greer Garson narrated. Jose Ferrer was endearing as a singer even though his voice was that of "the bad guy," Ben Haramed. Haramed and a bumbling partner temporarily abduct the young boy who has been orphaned. They sell the boy's camel, named "Joshua," to the trio of kings who are on their way to Bethlehem. The boy's name is Aaron. He's also accompanied by a donkey, "Samson," and lamb, "Baabaa."
The boy becomes free and suddenly notices the bright star. The kings had mentioned it. Aaron, Samson and Baabaa proceed in haste to try to find Joshua. So excited were they to finally see Joshua again, they became inattentive and Baabaa is mortally wounded by a chariot. Aaron, at the lowest point in his life, has only his drum - his only possession - as he is befriended by the benevolent kings who encourage him to observe the newborn Christ child. Aaron does what only he can, play his drum while all the animals around the manger nod their heads to the rhythm. Aaron turns around and notices that Baabaa has been miraculously cured. This scene made me cry when I was a child.
This is the kind of story we must embrace this time of year. Non-Christians can watch it and still feel moved.
Listen to Linus recite the Bible verses. It won't contaminate you.
The singing children at First Lutheran were typically charming. Have you ever noticed how the very youngest ones don't really "sing," they "shout?" There's nothing like an ensemble of second graders singing (or "shouting") a song like "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." It's the feeling of the season.