xmas - 1I know many who celebrate a range of spiritual and humanistic beliefs and unbelief; thus any seasonal greeting that rests upon a faulty recollection or calculated guess as to who believes what runs the risk of a quite inapt faux pas as we approach the winter solstice.

When in doubt it is therefore best to greet a passerby with the words, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”

Some insist fervently on saying “Merry Christmas” without apology or seeming kindness to everyone, to Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists.

Not to be too harsh, but that unconscious practice strikes me as not-very-Christian as it’s not very loving of one’s neighbor.

When younger and more innocent of religion, I was much taken with Pope John the XXIII who breathed the spirit of ecumenism into the Church, to create tolerance and cooperation among all Christians, a movement later described in Latin, as “ut unum sint,” so that all Christians might be as one.

But our times teach us we need more than just to bring Christians together as one.

We forget how many other ways there are to worship.

For those of us who were “force read” by Jesuit taskmasters on the Greeks and Romans, especially by way of “trot” translations of the Iliad and the Aneid, we couldn’t help but learn how these two majestic civilizations managed a belief in many gods, precisely defined, bearing corresponding divine characteristics but different names.  The Romans conceived of their gods as an idea without form whereas the Greeks gave their gods form in statues and paintings.

In some respects, the many manifestations of earthly and spiritual phenomenon made more sense, with varied “divine” entities with identifiable purposes, though this constellation of Greco-Roman belief has since been discounted among the cognoscenti, the “authorities” on religion.

Among all the writings and histories, Alexander the Great’s view of these multiple divinities was syncretic, meaning a mixing together of different religious traditions from different places, that Alexander apparently believed but also used to some political effect when he claimed that he was the son of Apollo.  Somewhat like how the Egyptian Horus was believed to be the son of the God Osiris.

We live in a world that insists there is only one god, and yet we have 2,000 different religions, an array of ways to worship, and one might argue a way to worship many gods, and certainly one god who appears in various aspects while remaining one god, and with devoted adherents spread upon and across our vast earth.

In any case, a real “greeting,” seasonal or otherwise, should be an embrace of another and not an affront to their beliefs.

That seems basic.

It is what my Mom and Dad expected of my brother Charles and I.

In grammar school, the Dominican Nuns of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Bronx said my Dad was going to hell if he didn’t go to Sunday Mass.

This tousled red haired son, in naïve fear of his father’s immortal soul, presented himself at dinner that night, and reported how these eager young nuns foresaw an unavoidable fiery eternity — if my Dad didn’t attend Sunday Mass.

My Dad paused for a moment, turning over what I said, stoic I thought, and he answered in a soft voice, my Mom “Rusty” and brother Charles looking on; he said, “Johnny, we all worship in our own way.”

That was it.  That was his answer – an instruction to respect how anyone may choose to worship or not.

So, whether and how you believe or don’t, my wife Holly and I wish you “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.”

These comments are not said to be offensive, nor to invoke what some may insist is “politically correct.”

Rather, this is really the right and only way to address another respectfully, and with dignity, when you don’t know their beliefs, and have no other purpose than to extend a heartfelt salutation.

In conclusion, may this season be for you and yours a time of good health, and a chance to share the love and kindness that you have for friend and family alike.