“Peace on Earth, Good Will to men”
For me, that phrase sums up the essence of what this season should mean. Whether you are gathering to celebrate the miracle of the lights, a divine birth, or sing back the cold and the darkness, this is the time where you join in the community to share love and gifts.
And yet, for the past few years, there has been a lot fighting within and over this season. The most publicized is the so-called “War on Christmas,” where people fight over what decorations are going up, and what greetings to give. But there is also as second round of fights between different groups, such as in the dueling billboards on the Lincoln tunnel, where both Catholic and Atheist groups are trying to impose their belief systems by invalidating others, or through the slew of intolerant comments that the self-righteous believers and unbelievers alike seem to want to throw around.
We do not get to choose a lot of the aspects of the worlds we live in. Because of this, we should always be careful of those aspects we can. When it comes to this season in which we find ourselves, we have a choice as to how we treat and react to others, and as such, we have a special ability to take control of that aspect of the world, and the consequences that come with it. We can choose to come together in peace, love and hope, or we can decide to divide ourselves in hatred and ego.
Take the war on Christmas, for instance. When you are offered a greeting of “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” you have a choice of how to perceive the greeting. If you are not Christian, and you are offered “Merry Christmas” or if you are Christian and are offered “Happy Holidays,” you can choose whether to interpret the greeting as an intended offering of good will, or an affront to your belief system. It seems those who are angriest are the ones looking to see the insult in the mistake, and ignore the well wishing of the greeting.
As for the decorations that go up, you can choose to embrace difference, or sink into paranoid vile. I remember a time where the diversity of the cultural representation was encouraged to maintain equality, yet today the trend seems to be restriction and removal, as if we have a complete inability to allow for difference; the mere presence of a difference has become perceived as a dire a violent attack. And in a world of infinite difference, the latter creates a world of infinite terror.
When it comes to the different traditions that do converge, our interpretations can either bring us into a community much larger than we can understand, or turn us into small and petty bullies. Do we see the converging themes, symbols and dates as a violation, competition, and threat, or a place of commonality that grants us a starting point to understand and join together? And when we can see one culture’s traditions used by another, do we accuse the culture of theft or plagiarism, or can we see that the adoption may have been an act of respect; a decision not to deny or invalidate the customs of old? Must we battle so savagely for our own and our group’s ego, that we cannot allow for the possibility of commonality and peace?
Finally, when it comes to existing in a world of difference, can we embrace it, or are we to live in fear over it? When it comes to religion, spirituality, holidays and celebration, there is no discovered scientific fact, no credible logical proof, or any other verifiable evidence that “proves” the superiority of one belief set, or non-belief set over another. The beliefs involved are determined by the intangibles of experience, and because of this, each of us has to wrestle with the vagueness that comes with that lack of the concrete. As such, the choice is to allow ourselves to continually look inward and learn from the new ideas from the differences around us, or to retreat against the vulnerability from the vagueness and create a mask self-righteousness to hide our fear.
And so, I would choose peace and good will. I would choose to accept and revel in the diversity and difference, so that I face it with joy and love. The alternative is to choose the world that is fearful and hateful. I know I cannot have absolute control over the world I live in, but I can choose to see simple mistakes in greetings as well wishing from friends and strangers, the presence of other symbols and traditions as opportunites to learn and grow, and the similarities as evidence of a common humanity between us, and in doing so, I choose to live a life of community and growth. The alternative is to choose to live a wretched and terrifying existence.
So please, in this holiday season, enjoy the celebration and the song. Enjoy the movies, shows, and performances. Come together with friends, family, and community. Be part of something bigger, and experience the peace and love that comes when you open yourself to the humanity around you.