I'm not a fanatic atheist or a self-righteous secular humanist. I'm a practicing Christian. But I think Christmas should be stricken from the list of legal holidays in America.
In a nation where people routinely declare their adherence to separation of church and state, a national Christmas holiday is hypocrisy. Returning Dec. 25 to ordinary status – as it was before 1870, when Congress made it a federal holiday – has many practical benefits. More important, it would restore the integrity of how Christians honor the birth of Jesus Christ.
Ending Christmas as a legal holiday would help eliminate the seasonal frenzy. Who hasn't crossed paths with parents crazed by desire to procure the right gift to win their child's affection? Who has not observed mothers anxious about re-creating Grandma's perfect Christmas dinner? Who isn't weary by the time the great day arrives?
I can hear the cries of merchants: "The economy would collapse!" "My company would go out of business!" But an economy built on stimulation of desire for the useless items I see for sale each year should review its underpinnings. We all have more desires than needs, and most Americans have more "stuff" than we could use in a lifetime.
As a former teacher, I can attest that schools would benefit enormously from making Dec. 25 just another day of the week. The long holiday interruption, coming on the heels of Thanksgiving, makes it hard to maintain continuity in classroom activities. The weeks between Thanksgiving and start of Christmas break are weighed down with so many holiday obligations that scant progress is made with the curriculum.
And the "December dilemma" looms large in schools. I refer to the mood affecting teachers, parents, and students as they wonder whether they can mention Jesus, Bethlehem, Wise Men, or shepherds without offending someone. Adults tend to deal with the issue by banishing materials that might be construed as religious. Children are thus rightly confused at the notion of celebrating a holiday – really, a holy day – whose origin cannot be mentioned. I remember having tense discussions about the content in what is now routinely called the "holiday music program." Fear of offending anyone usually produces programs that are saccharine, devoid of meaningful content.
Then there is the workplace. The demise of the office Christmas party would hurt no one. Often, a few eggnog-drunk employees engage in naughty activities, or make ill-considered remarks about or to the boss. Party defenders call it an event to thank workers, but there is nothing to prevent employers from granting year-end bonuses, or celebrating a firm's progress in ways less fraught with temptations.
Last , and most important to me personally, is that ending Christmas as a legal holiday would force those of us who are Christians to identify ourselves as such. All Christians – practicing or nominal – would be faced with the decision to take Dec. 24 and 25 as personal days. How many would honor their faith and respect their traditions by doing so?
Traditions are important, because they force old foes to shake hands, and they reinforce community. These important functions are not served by the mobs shopping for yet another useless object. Gifts should be the sign of special attentiveness toward another person, an observation of what that person needs in a deep emotional sense. This is a rare occurrence in most Christmas gift-giving.
Unburdened of the glitter and tinsel, the piped-in sugary music at the malls, the frenzied shopping, Christmas could breathe again, become what it was intended to be, and observed in a spirit of devotion by those of us who believe in Jesus, our Christ.
• Mary Jane Wilkie directs the Sunday School at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Morristown, N.J.