Getting into the full spirit of Christmas, not the `holidays'

December 25, 2007|By LIZ SMITH | LIZ SMITH,Tribune Media Services

Let's hear a third-generation atheist of Jewish ancestry speak of Christmas.

Blake Gopnik says: "The wonderfully secular, partly pagan solstice celebration that is Dec. 25 also had a tie to Christ for about 2,000 years. The link is too well forged to try to break it now without diminishing the whole event. I find beauty in the most clearly Christian parts of Christmas, and I'm not willing to lose out on it, or let the Christians keep it for themselves. I'll buy `In God We Trust' as crucial decoration on the dollar bill, and I'll use `Merry Christmas' as the right words to usher in the solstice season, so in the full spirit of the holiday, I'd like to wish us one and all, Christians and Jews, Muslims and Zoroastrians (even my fellow atheists) a very, very Merry Christmas."

I agree with Mr. Gopnik, and I don't buy cards that say "Happy Holidays" either.

Christmas memories

I find many of my Jewish friends like Christmas as much as I do. Some of my happiest memories are of partying with Sony's Welshman Sir Howard Stringer and his wife, Jennifer Patterson, where Marvin Hamlisch played Christmas music and everybody -- but everybody -- sang. Nora Ephron always did the verse to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," like the native Californian she is:

"The sun is shining, the grass is green. The orange and palm trees sway. I've never seen such a day -- in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it's December, the 24th and I'm longing to be up north." Segue into the song written by a cantor's son from Russia ... described as "the darkest, bluest tune ever to masquerade as a Christmas carol."

Long live the queen

Incidentally, the queen of Great Britain, Elizabeth II, has just become the oldest monarch in the history of England. Queen Victoria was her illustrious predecessor, but the little girl who was known in the days before World War II as "Lilybet," has outstripped even her great-great-grandmother Victoria. Elizabeth will be 82 on April 21, but like Santa Claus she shows no sign of her age.

End thought

To end, as always with the words of Riverside Baptist Church's pastor James Allan Francis written in 1926: "He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then for three years, he was an itinerant preacher. He never had a family or owned a home. He never set foot inside a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place he was born. He never wrote a book or held an office. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness.

"While he was still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends deserted him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had -- his coat. He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

"Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today, he is the central figure for much of the human race. All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as this One Solitary Life."

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