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Putting the holly into the holidays

The caller wanted to know who was responsible and, as is usually the case when people are upset, it was me.

Why, she asked, did we use the term 'holiday tree' in last week's story about the Nov. 24 tree lighting at the Chamber of Commerce?

My explanation - that we adopted the description used by the chamber, didn't cut it.

The entire story, she noted, was devoid of the word 'Christmas.' In fact, she said, the only place that word appeared in last week's paper was in the ads.

While her last statement was a bit of a stretch (the word Christmas appears more than a dozen times in last week's edition), her point was valid: There is a move in this country to limit the use of the word Christmas. And it's fine with me.

As someone who tries to choose words carefully, I know that 'Christ' is part of Christmas. And, as the son of a preacher, I can come pretty close to quoting Luke's account of the virgin birth verbatim.

In our home we have a Christmas tree, we sing Christmas carols and we'll even make Christmas cookies (though I can't find any references to snowmen or reindeer in my version of the New Testament).

I have a lot of problems with what Christmas has become, from the continuous creep of commercialism to the maddening mockery of the phrase 'peace on earth.'

But I can't get worked up about the so-called secular 'attack on Christmas.' In fact, if the Forest Grove Chamber of Commerce wants to light a holiday tree, I say 'Amen.' Here's why.

First, despite the caller's worries that 'liberals' like me pose a threat to cherished traditions, there's no danger of missing the dominant spiritual message of the holiday around here.

After sending this paper to the press, I'll head off to my son's public elementary school, where he'll join a host of other children in singing 'Silent Night' and taking part in a production of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas,' which includes a scene where Linus recites the same passage from the Gospel of Luke (King James version, no less) that I learned in Sunday school.

And, last I looked, the star on top of the chamber's 'holiday tree' had five points, not six.

Yes, we live in a predominantly Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. But, increasingly, we are not an exclusively Christian nation, and it's important for our public officials and civic institutions to reflect that - even out here in central Washington County where you have to cross at least four city limits to reach the nearest synagogue or mosque.

In that sense, the caller is right. Our traditions are changing, sometimes voluntarily, other times by court order. There was a time when we put Christmas crèches in public squares and opened city council meetings with the Lord's Prayer.

The fact that we, as a society, are showing more sensitivity to our growing diversity doesn't threaten my beliefs about Christmas or Christianity. Rather, it strengthens them.

The shift in emphasis from a Christmas celebration focused on a single religion to the more secular festivities focused on holly and eggnog doesn't dilute the spiritual nature of the season for me.

It's simply a way of following some pretty sound advice I read somewhere: treat others as you'd like them to treat you.

Happy holidays.

And Merry Christmas.