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A time of year and state of mind

| Sunday, Dec. 25, 2005

On Thanksgiving we express gratitude for our many blessings by eating to excess. The next day we begin a month-long campaign fraught with acquisitive misery to get more stuff. I borrow from Craig Ferguson, the Scot on late-night TV.

Christmas is, but not entirely so to be sure, an occasion for cynicism. But that's a good place to start. The bargain riots at the Big Box retailers after the doors opened on Black Friday were pretty funny. Almost as funny as a soldier in a Baghdad alley -- thousands of miles away from his lover and children -- ducking bullets and wishing, dear God, he had them in his arms.

"I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." Listen to Johnny Mathis with Percy Faith and his Orchestra -- or Bing Crosby. Think about him -- that soldier -- as I do in the moments these words are written.

One may turn to the possibilities inherent in the Christmas story. The Catholic Encyclopedia, a good reference work, says the antecedent to the word "Christmas" doesn't show up until the 11th century, some time after the birth of Christ and some time before the capitalist Christmas of modern practice -- which the Ayn Rand Institute says is just fine if it makes you happy.

Putter around reading the various sources about Christmas in history and today and one conclusion shines through, not unlike the Star of Bethlehem.

People make of Christmas what they want to -- spending intergenerational centuries doing so -- for good or for ill. Christ is not of this world but most certainly is. And the world can be distracted and disloyal.

Hence the old controversy -- that the secularists take Christ out of Christmas. More recently the "multiculturalists" have foisted upon us in Christmas commerce and ordinary human interaction the desiccated and reprehensible "Happy Holidays."

No tongue-in-cheek here. "Happy Holidays" is profane, exquisitely so because it is pleasantly inclusive but tosses out the baby Christ with the bath water. So proclaim "Merry Christmas" with a blissful heart and a subversive Santa-like twinkle in your eye.

The mass of 130 million on Black Friday may include a countless number of folks who are not at all dismissive of the Christmas story. Raise your hands, please.

It should be clear that your participation in capitalist Christmas reinforces capitalist Christmas. Retailing is largely organized around it. Stop shopping with such gusto and you put people out of work, some of whom live in Asia. They may care nothing of Christmas except wage and profit, which puts them in true communion with the American secularists who ring forth with the sterilized "Happy Holidays." Discriminatory on its face, "Happy Holidays" is damnably insensitive to people who are sad.

We can derive a positive emotion from the flesh-and-blood appearance of the redeemer of mankind as a precious baby. Wishing someone happiness concerning a holiday connivingly plundered of hallowed meaning, its spirituality, is despicable.

To a species of take-no-prisoners rationalists, spirituality is self-deception. It does not exist no matter how strenuously we pretend it does. To them, spirituality is a delusional state that blinds us to the realities of the world and diverts us from the never-ending work necessary to improve the human condition.

Trying to define spirituality is like trying to solidify a sound.

Which is exactly the point lost to the rationalists. Not all things can be grasped and held. Some things require a reaching. Christian theology certainly has its landmarks but one's relationship with the higher power has an infinitude of possibilities. And infinity cannot be defined.

We have returned, after meandering with cynicism, social commentary and perhaps a touch of spirituality to the possibilities of Christmas.

Christmas is ... ?

A time of year and a state of mind. Show love as love was shown unto you. And if love does not come your way, find love in yourself and give a portion, somehow.

Gery Steighner is a Trib editorial page writer. Call him at 412-380-5623. E-mail him at: <\h> gsteighner@tribweb.com

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