WASHINGTON — Oh, this vexatious season is almost over. How to greet my fellows Americans amid statues of Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rangifer tarandus? Merry Christmas? Happy Hanukkah? Something about Kwanzaa? Happy Holiday? Have A Good One? There are so many choices and so many possibilities of giving offense. Loath as I am to give offense (unintentionally!) I have been avoiding the whole subject.
Then along came Charles Krauthammer who is surely the most sensible pundit in the land, as well as one of the best informed and most agreeable — though the burden of good sense often places on him the burden of saying disagreeable things. At least the things he says often are disagreeable to the benighted. Krauthammer has informed us in his syndicated column that it is acceptable to greet the majority of Americans with a cheerful “Merry Christmas.” Well, I am relieved. Next year I may screw my courage to the sticking point and offer “Merry Christmas” to all. Though to my Jewish friends I would like to offer “Happy Hanukkah.” And to my atheist and agnostic friends, “Have A Good One.” Actually, I guess I could offer that last greeting to the guy down at the end of the bar whatever his faith, or should I say his/her faith?
This great controversy brings to mind a favored insight of mine. Society divides between the intelligent and the unintelligent, the gifted and the ungifted, but the most significant divide resides between the agreeable and the disagreeable. The disagreeable are forever out there disturbing the peace and claiming they do it for high moral purpose. Sometimes they do, but not always; and they often make social contact social conflict for no good reason.
Krauthammer is, as I say, on the side of the agreeable. His pronouncement on this vexed holiday is worth quoting at length not only for what he says about the holiday but also for what he says about this good country of ours. “The United States today is the most tolerant and diverse society in history. It celebrates all faiths with an open heart and open-mindedness that, compared to even the most advanced countries in Europe, are unique.” He points out that 80% of Americans are Christians and 95% observe Christmas in some way. This does not alarm him. He being Jewish has used the holiday to fill in for Christian co-workers who are not at work. His co-workers have reciprocated for him on Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana and another of his “major holidays,” Opening Day at Fenway.
Krauthammer makes another point that I myself have tried to make over the years. We would hope that non-Christians are strong enough in their faith to feel unthreatened by Christmas carols or other vaguely religious themes. I should think this would be particularly true of agnostics and atheists, who I would think compose a particularly hearty lot.
In Alexandria, Virginia’s Old Town I often attend a Roman Catholic Church that might never have been there were it not for that great and good man George Washington. Washington was part of the Protestant majority that in those faraway days was not particularly congenial to Catholics, but he put in his recommendation that the assorted rastaquoueres have their church and they have it. Washington went beyond mere toleration. He encouraged religious minorities. In his 1790 letter to the Newport synagogue he wrote, Krauthammer reminds us, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.” So maybe next year I shall be blurting out “Merry Christmas.” But for now let me say God Bless.
AS I FINISH THIS column I am told that my friend, the liberal columnist Jack Newfield, died just hours ago. He was an honest liberal. He wrote for such diverse papers as the Village Voice and the New York Sun, often expressing sentiments I could not countenance; but he was always worthy of respect, for he never postured or feigned a sentiment. Those adversaries who deserved his respect had it. He was tough-minded but he knew that there were boundaries to politics beyond which commonality could be shared. We talked about food, jazz, American history, and sports — especially boxing, his beloved Sweet Science — with no hint of politics. There was nothing petty or opportunistic about his work. He loved life, particularly the urban life of New York. So let me end by saying God Bless Jack Newfield. His friends and even his enemies will miss his strong voice.