Have you heard? It's official. Christmas is back at Wal-Mart.
The specific mention of Christmas is no longer persona non grata within the array of the many holidays retailed at this time of year. But for many people of faith, the retailing of holy seasons like Advent and Christmas is a debatable enterprise since the real gift of these seasons is free to all. The seasons of Advent and Christmas are coupled together to invite rejoicing, thanksgiving and acceptance of God's free gift of His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ, who came as a babe for the salvation of this world. Indeed, Christians believe God's gift is not only free but also matchless. Christians believe this miraculous gift transcends our ordinary lives so often centered on material value and invites us to experience the gift of holiness.
Holiness means to be set apart from that which is obscene and ordinary in the world so that we can find our godly purpose and live it out. Practical demonstrations of this result in our willingness to offer the extraordinary gifts of good will, love, peace, joy and hope to and with our neighbors. Holiness is a distinctive mark for all religions and is at the root of the meaning of holiday.
While most are familiar with Webster's popular definition of holidays referring to days fixed by law or custom on which ordinary business is suspended for commemoration of some event or in honor of some person, the other definition is often misunderstood, segregated, overlooked or dismissed. Webster's other definition of holiday suggests a time for the celebration of religious feasts that honor that which is sacred in our lives.
My experience in one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world, India, showed me a context in which the public celebration of the holy days and related religious feasts was not only welcomed but also anticipated. Each holy day seemed to have value and contributed to a healthy respect of a wide array of religious expressions and nation building while not reducing the import of each holy day or compromising the particular believers of various religious expressions.