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For goodness’ sake

POSTED December 23, 2010 7:14 p.m.

In the spirit of Christmas I’ve decided to blatantly steal some seasonal inspiration from my favorite television shows.

That’s right, you’re about to be treated to a very special holiday episode of this column, wherein we embark on a journey to find the true meaning of Christmas.

I’ll skip over the bit of the trip where we pass through the gumdrop forest and candy cane lane to get right to the meat of the question: What’s Christmas all about?

Much to the chagrin of many of my readers, I’m going to come out and say that Christmas today doesn’t really have much to do with a certain birthday celebration. I anticipate scores of hateful and hurtful e-mails lamenting the “fact” that I am part of the de-Jesusifying of Christmas, and citing me as personally responsible for the ridiculous shift from the timeless classic greeting of “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.”

I still say Merry Christmas. I understand that, for many people, Jesus is the sole reason for the season.

But Christmas, as we have it today, is a holiday celebrated by folks of all creeds. Nowadays, the true Christmas miracle is that a Christian holiday has spread into something enjoyed by Jews, Muslims, and Atheists alike. And if Christmas really was entirely about Christ, then I doubt you’d find an Atheist anywhere near Dec. 25, unless they were carrying angry protest signs.

I also don’t believe Christmas is about presents, contrary to what major retailers would have us think. I enjoy giving presents, and I enjoy getting presents, but I don’t enjoy Christmas because of the presents.

I like the idea of Santa Claus – who Christmas also isn’t really about, if you were wondering – and I love the magic inherent in a single, overweight man sliding down chimneys around the world to deliver presents to good boys and girls. But to say Christmas is about Santa, a man who woefully pays no attention to the 20-somethings without children such as myself, is clearly wrong.

I do think, however, that all three of these key elements of Christmas – Christ, Claus, and presents – point toward the true meaning of the season.

For most people, you see, Christmas is simply about an idea: Be good, and good things will come to you.

Santa illustrates it most blatantly; be good or you won’t get any presents. Jesus laid the concept out later in life with his Golden Rule -- "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you," Jesus said, "do ye even so to them..." (Matt. 7: 12). Our gift giving tradition at Christmas is a way of giving back, of thanking our friends and family members who do so much for us throughout the year but are seldom told how much they mean to us.

We’re all jolly at Christmas. We’re especially nice to one another. It’s this Christmas Spirit we all talk about. This lesson to be good is fresh in our minds.

I think it’s because we know we’re going to be rewarded for our efforts from the year. Even if we don’t get presents, we get to see our loved ones and share time with them – and isn’t that the best present of all?

As for the timing of the holiday – the darkest days of winter – it makes a lot of sense, regardless of when Jesus was born. It’s cold, dark, trying times like these when we all need one another to make it through.

Christmas is the reminder we all need that we’re all in this together. That not a one of us is entirely alone, and that we should care for everyone else. And, if we do care for one another, we’ll all be better for it.

That’s the kind of message I can get behind spreading.

So I’ll keep singing Christmas songs with a smile on my face. I’ll go out of my way to be courteous and kind. And I’ll even wear a cheesy Santa hat if the situation demands it.

I’m just glad to know, at this time of year, that everyone else out there is doing the same thing.

To contact Alex Cantatore – with good news only, please – e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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