I believe in Christmas, but not in the way you might think; let me try to explain.
I’m not Christian ... or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or any other religion. I wouldn’t say I’m an atheist, though — I definitely believe in something.
It’s not easy to qualify what that is when the usual labels don’t fit, but I think what comes closest is humanism. Not the old “secular humanism” preachers used to spit out as a curse; I have faith in the human spirit.
It’s the human spirit that, in a time of darkness, seeks light. Not just physical light, but the light of humanity, the “spirit of the season.”
Whether you call the season Christmas, solstice, yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or something else —or even nothing at all — there’s a feeling of goodwill that just floats in the air this time of year, from the people on the street who smile and nod as they hustle through the cold to the weary clerks willing to commiserate about the commercial insanity of the season.
Friends, acquaintances, even strangers become closer during the holidays.
Sure, not everyone’s going to feel the same way. For many, the forced joy that’s often expected can produce feelings that range from misanthropy to severe depression. Scrooge may have been a caricature, but he was based in reality.
Even these people — perhaps especially these people — should be shown kindness during this time of year, even if only to lend a sympathetic ear and a friendly word or two.
We’re not the only creatures that give of ourselves for the sake of others; many species do. But we are the only ones who make an occasion of it at a time when it’s most needed, in the dead of winter, reminding us at our deepest level of what we all need during this season — tidings of comfort and joy.
The decorations, the lights, the music — which can range from the sublime to the extremely tacky — remind us of the traditions we share. The time we spend with friends or family, keeping those traditions alive in practice or just in memory, is always time well spent.
And starting new traditions can help keep our own spirits alive through the long winter.
People like to speak of “the reason for the season,” but I believe the season is its own reason. It’s pretty well known that the early Christian church moved its holiday to the middle of winter to take advantage of festivals that already existed.
If there weren’t a Christmas, there would be some other holiday of sharing and giving in its place. It’s what we need most at a time we most need it.
Whether you’re singing a carol with a friend or two, purchasing a gift for a family member, going to a religious service or just taking in the sights and sounds of the season, the joy and goodwill in the air lifts your spirit. And taking the time to lift the spirits of another can lift yours even more.
So I wish you all a Merry Christmas, whatever that may mean to you.
Carl Letsche lives in Altoona. His essay aired Thursday on WPSU.