- - Monday, December 24, 2012

For weeks, my 4-year-old son has been admiring the presents (especially his own) under our Christmas tree. He’s also been wondering what’s in his stocking hung over the fireplace. That’s why my wife and I look forward to seeing the beaming smile on his face on Christmas as he opens his gifts and plays with his new toys.

This probably sounds like a typical Christmas story. Well, it’s not. For you see, I’m not Christian. I was born Jewish.

It’s a story I’ve written and discussed in the past. I’ve been an agnostic Jew for 30 years. I celebrate Christmas in a nonreligious fashion with my wife (who is Catholic). I don’t celebrate any of the Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah. My parents, sister and her family still do, and I’m glad they feel the desire to maintain some traditions in their households.

I strongly support freedom of religion, and strongly oppose religious persecution and bigotry against Jews, Christians and moderate Muslims. Just because I choose not to participate doesn’t mean that I feel others should follow my example. Far from it.

So, why would a nonreligious Jew want to celebrate a Christian holiday he didn’t grow up with? Actually, I did. I’m 42, and grew up in an era when most people enjoyed the festive spirit of Christmas — and weren’t afraid to say so. My mother and father took me to see Santa Claus, and I have various photos with him. We went to the annual Santa Claus Parade. We admired Christmas displays in the department stores. When people warmly wished us a “Merry Christmas,” we happily wished them the same.

Although my mother wasn’t comfortable with having a Christmas tree when I was young, she has grown to love the Christmas trees in my house. Every year, she asks to put up an ornament or two, and we happily oblige. My father, who always liked Christmas trees — I suppose that’s where I get it from — had a tiny fake one in his office. When Jewish clients came in and looked quizzically at this item, he would smile and call it a Hanukkah bush.

My parents didn’t teach me to fear or hate Christmas. They passed this important belief on to me, and I’m eternally grateful for it.

This particular position is remarkably similar to the positive feelings about Christmas held by early American Jews. One of my favorite passages in Penne L. Restad’s “Christmas in America: A History” comes from an 1877 article in the Philadelphia Times. As reported, the “Hebrew brethren did not keep aloof” from Christmas, and young Jewish children “were as happy … as Christian children” with the Christmas trees which “bloomed” in their homes.

In my view, Christmas is not just for Christians. It’s for everyone. We have the freedom to celebrate any holiday, custom and tradition we so choose. Placing restrictions on a person’s enjoyment of religious or cultural events helps create an unhealthy environment of ignorance and intolerance.

No wonder some non-Christian children are confused during Christmas. Their loved ones create imaginary barriers from participating in trimming a tree, singing carols and attending midnight mass with their friends. I always feel badly for them, because they’re missing out on the fun and pleasure that I — and many others — experienced at Christmas.

Fortunately, many Christian and non-Christian families, who are comfortable in their own personal and religious or nonreligious identities, are sick and tired of this perpetual war on Christmas. They reject political correctness as well as simple-minded attacks on Christianity and other world religions. They want their children to respect different religions, people and holidays.

Many children are therefore learning about different cultural events and holidays in our schools and places of worship. Together, they’re making paper Christmas trees, spinning dreidels, singing songs, eating different cuisines and so on. They’re laughing, playing and beginning to understand one another.

Yes, there will always be evil and hatred in the world. The tragic events in Newtown, Conn., proved this to be true. Yet, if we want to build a safer society for our children, it also has to start at home. Smashing religious barriers will help create a healthier environment and make our society stronger.

This isn’t a liberal fantasy, as some critics like to call it. It’s what all good and decent people — irrespective of politics, class and faith — should always aspire to.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.