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Joy to all

| Monday, December 7, 2015

As winter draws closer, once again public discourse in this country turns in part toward what some call the War on Christmas. As a Jew and as an atheist reflecting on what I see, hear and feel, I have some humble thoughts I’d like to share, especially with my many Christian friends.

I like this time of year. In the cold and the dark, I like how we remember the warmth and the light. I like the ritual around it. I like the rich symbolic language we have for it: bright colors, over-the-top decorations, wreaths, holly, pine trees, snowmen, candles, festive sweets and more. It warms my soul to see how much of ourselves we put into this cheerful effort. One of my favorite rituals as a child was visiting a small shopping mall near my family’s home. Santa was there and, yes, I sat on his lap, but that’s not what I remember most. What I remember most is eating pizza from this one shop they had there, sanctified by the overall experience, while I excitedly watched the enormous and elaborate model train town the mall set up in the central hallway. Its sheer size and detail enthralled me. Every child deserves memories like those.

I understand that many people practice winter rituals as a way to express their Christian faith, and how important those rituals are for reinforcing it. My hope in writing this column, however, is that people might realize that winter celebration — joy in dark times — is for everyone. Our whole civilization does it, not just Christians. The thorny matter is, though, that some symbols reach more broadly than others. When I see an ornately lit tree or a bright red cup, those things instill joy. When I see a manger scene or particularly angel-heavy public decorations, I instead remember that I’m not part of the main group and feel left out in the cold (so to speak). I know many Christians insist as a tenet of faith that the birth of Christ is a universal message meant for everyone. However, insisting on imagery I don’t identify with, when all I want is to feel a little joy, isn’t a good way to spread a message of universal love.

So please, this Christmas, celebrate in whatever way you deem is right. I only ask that you leave room in your words, in your acts and in your hearts for the joy of those like me who may not see the world the way you do. Thank you.


Mike Haskel

graduate student

Nov. 19

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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