I WAS PLANNING TO WRITE a Christmas column, what with it being Christmas and all, but then I started reading the newspaper and now I'm not sure I can. Apparently it is not correct to speak of Christmas anymore. (If you can figure out how I can talk about not talking about Christmas without talking about Christmas, please let me know.)
So, how to proceed? Since in Cary the city puts up a seasonally displayed, ornamentally decorated evergreen tree and calls it a community tree (which coincidentally shows up at about the time a Christmas tree would show up), I considered emulating them. But I really couldn't call my column a community column because I want to write it all by myself.
My next thought: Maybe I could call it an X-mas column. Then the "X" could mean one thing to atheists (and their existentialist fellow travelers) but something else to Christians. In that way it would be one of those secret symbols, like the fish emblem you see on cars that you have wondered so much about.
X-mas, it would seem, would take the Christ out of Christmas -- X him right out, so to speak. But some atheists would still find X-mas offensive since it would, even in negation, point to Christ. (Don't think I'm joking. Many atheists don't like being called atheist because the root of the word is theist which refers to God, who as they would be glad to point out, doesn't exist. So, some of them have lobbied to have themselves referred to as "brights." Again, I'm not making this up.)
Here's another problem with an X-mas column. X-mas is not, some scholars say, a non-Christian, an a-Christian or an anti-Christian term. Among the religious, objections to Xmas usually fall along the line that this takes Christ out of Christmas, replacing him with an unknown (since the English letter x is a common mathematical symbol for an unknown quantity) -- but this isn't so. X-mas long predates the 20th-century secularization of the holiday. The term was a widely used symbol for Christmas in the time of Gutenberg, five centuries earlier, and has no irreverent implication whatsoever.
I contemplated briefly going with the Raleigh solution, as in the dueling seasonal displays in Moore Square, Raleigh's free speech zone. (The U.S. used to be a free speech zone, but something happened, I think.) In Raleigh, the duel is Son versus Sun. Call2Action put up a Nativity Scene. The Triangle Freethought Society put up a poster celebrating the Winter Solstice.
The more sophisticated worship the Sun instead the Son. Don't laugh, their faith seems more effectual than that of mainstream Christianity. I don't know exactly how they do it but about this time of year, every year, Sun worshippers start praying for the Sun to return, and in a matter of months it does. Christians have been praying for the return of Christ for two thousand years, and he has yet to come back.
The most powerful Sun-worshipping prayers come from Norway. I have friend from Tromsø, Norway, which is 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Lene called me all excited one spring with this declaration: "The sun is back!" In Norway they don't just pray the sun to revive from its diminished state; they have to pray it back into existence. And they do -- every year.
Anyway, under the Raleigh model I would have to get liability insurance and a government-issued permit, so I just decided to take a pass on the combined Yes Christmas! No Christmas! column as well.
That leaves me with a column which cites a work of literature, where the original wording is retained to maintain the authenticity of the historical text.
Christmas is a-coming; the goose is getting fat.
Please put a penny in the old man's hat.
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do.
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!
Gary D. Gaddy agrees with Rabbi Marc Gellman that "Christmas without Christ is just 'mas,' which in Spanish means more."
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday December 25, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy