Merry Christmas to you all! I know it is Dec. 26, and the gift-giving was yesterday, but in my tradition, Dec. 25 is the beginning of 12 days of religious meaning that ends with Epiphany — the celebration of when the Christ child was welcomed by the Magi, or the Three Kings.
I am Christian, which means I believe in God, and that God sent his son Jesus Christ to show human beings the path to everlasting life; the path to God; the path home.
I string lights in my home, place a fir tree adorned with lights, ornaments and an angel inside where it can be seen from outside, and buy gifts for my friends and family. I attend church, especially the service at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, where the real celebration of Christmas occurs — the celebration of the birth of Christ and the telling of that ages-old story.
Where you may see trappings of a man-made commercial holiday, I see symbols. To me, the tree means life; the lights are for hope, peace, joy and love; the angel, handmade by a special aunt, reminds me of God’s ever-watching and guiding presence in my life; the ornaments are a lifetime’s accumulation of special gifts from friends and family. I give gifts and send cards as a way to connect with some of the people I love.
But nowhere in my tradition is there an intention to offend or stomp on someone else’s tradition or beliefs. As a Christian, I am offended by society’s insistence on turning Christmas into a politically correct “holiday.” I respect those who celebrate special days from other religions. Some of those viewpoints are expressed in this weekly column, and in a perfect world, they all would be. I would appreciate it if our culture would please respect mine.
Although I share a God with my Jewish friends, I respect that they still await the Messiah. I am acquainted with Muslims and Buddhists, and respect their beliefs. I have atheist and agnostic friends, know people who celebrate Kwanzaa, and I am aware of other beliefs among people in our communities. I mean none of them offense when I say Merry Christmas. I mean only to share the joy I feel from my religion with them. And I would be delighted if they shared with me the joy they feel from their religions.
When it comes right down to it, all people who follow a religion, regardless of what it is, share one thing: We believe in something or someone larger than ourselves; a guiding force that grants us a sense of right and wrong, intensifies our joys and bolsters us during our sorrows, and above all, gives us hope for something better.
I am a Christian. I would feel lost and alone if I did not have my faith in God and the promise of everlasting life brought to this world by his son Jesus Christ. Without faith, my life would feel empty and meaningless. I use the guiding principles of my faith in my life every day, although sometimes I am more successful than others. To me, that is Christianity in its simplest form. But even Christians have a wide array of beliefs among them, from ultraconservative to ultraliberal. Still, all of them believe in God and Jesus Christ as the core of their faith. And we celebrate the birth of the Christ child at Christmas.
So when you walk in downtown Bangor, know the tree in the square is decorated in the Christian tradition of Christmas, and no matter what it’s called, that’s what it is. Wouldn’t it be delightful if sometime the tree were decorated as a “holiday” tree with representative symbols from all of the religions in our community?
By the way, today is the beginning of Kwanzaa, a weeklong African American celebration of African values as they relate to family, community and culture. Happy Kwanzaa, and Merry Christmas!
Julie Murchison Harris is religion editor at the Bangor Daily News and is a member of All Souls Congregational Church in Bangor.