Tablet Opinion

Richard Greene: Why just say ‘happy holidays’ if your joy is for Christ’s birth?

With Thanksgiving behind us, the only prominent religious holiday left to celebrate this year is Christmas.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah (Dec. 16-24 this year), but under Jewish law it’s really one of the less important holidays. In practice, it’s become more prominent because of its proximity to Christmas.

The annual discussion is underway about whether “Merry Christmas” should be avoided because it may bother some who do not observe its religious significance.

The privilege enjoyed by every person in our country to worship as they wish and recognize whatever deity they choose or none at all is a freedom that defines us and one I fully embrace.

But I’ve never understood why the more than 2 billion Christians around the world — nearly a third of the global population — should have to moderate their annual celebration of faith.

Our government and courts have left a lot of confusion about how Christmas and its many symbols can be portrayed on public property. Some extension of the intent of the establishment clause in the Constitution is often cited and interpreted to fit various predispositions.

While restricting what can be said or done at Christmastime in schools, at city halls or on the lawn of the courthouse, both houses of Congress open their own sessions with prayer.

The same thing takes place at the U.S. Supreme Court. And we all hear the president seeking God’s blessings on our country at the end of just about every speech he makes.

You can’t help but notice that all governments shut down Dec. 25. If it’s not because of honoring Christmas, what is it for?

Even the business world, especially the retailers, can’t seem to figure out how to deal with the question of how to identify what the occasion is supposed to be called.

Some customers say they won’t buy products or services from stores that use the traditional greeting, and others say they won’t buy from stores that don’t.

So why do we get tied up in the debate every December over the question of whether or not it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas”?

I don’t know a good answer to that question. But for those who don’t like the actual and implied restrictions on such an expression, we do have some ancient history that could make us confident that the era of political correctness will fade away.

Christmas, with every bit of its traditional meaning, will endure and thrive.

The first celebration occurred at the time of the birth of Christ, and just about everything meaningful in Christian observance of the occasion can be traced to that event.

After he was crucified as a criminal, his followers faced the horrors of persecution for the next three centuries and beyond.

They were unceremoniously murdered at the whim of tyrannical emperors, forced into sporting arenas to be torn apart by lions and tigers, and bore unspeakable suffering for being viewed as a threat to other societies.

Somehow they survived all that and became the largest body of religious believers on Earth.

If you are among them and feel dispirited by the trend away from your unguarded practice of commemorating the miraculous event that occurred in that lowly stable, there will be Christmas without limits in places of worship for you everywhere.

The world’s most prominent religious leader welcomed the 150,000 people gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica last year with these words: “Dear brothers and sisters in Rome and throughout the world, a happy Christmas!”

While I’m not a Catholic, I really appreciate Pope Francis’ beautiful greeting plainly and simply spoken — the way it is supposed to be.

It’s not a winter festival, or something. It’s Christmas.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.