T’was the night before Christmas, Oh what the heck! I can’t stand trying to be politically correct. So here goes the story without mistletoe, which really means “poo on a stick”; not romantic I know. Christmas is when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. The truth is that no one has really been able to establish the date when Jesus was born. The most widely held belief is that December 25th was popularized to coincide with another famous pagan religious celebration commemorating the birth of the sun.

Although, there are some Christians who do not celebrate Christmas because they take offense that the birth date of their savior has since been secularized, most Christians have internalized this reality. It’s not that they are ignorant of this religious erosion; it’s just that none of these facts detract from the spirit of Christmas or Christ. In fact it is the secularization of Christmas that has led to its current status of religious exemption and allowed western secular governments to declare it a secular national holiday. In the United States, the First Amendment has constitutionally enshrined the separation of Church and state, making it illegal to officially recognize any religion. Recognition is a form of endorsement and recognizing Christmas as a religious holiday violates this fundamental secular tenet, and so they have conveniently declared it a national holiday by secularizing many of its historically Christian symbols. So for many Americans who are neither religious nor Christian, Christmas is not a holy day. It’s just a holiday.

The only individuals who are adamant about not celebrating Christmas are the segment of society who think it would be disrespectful to Christians to co-opt their celebration, and equally disrespectful to the spirit of Jesus to indulge in the orgy of consumerism and consumption. People like Muslims for example, many of who have no issue observing national holidays like Thanksgiving, which is a time of commemorating the Pilgrim’s provisional appeasement of the locals, or of Halloween, a time originally meant to celebrate and remember the dead. It’s all done in good spirits, no pun intended. The point is that Muslims do not need a bumper sticker to remind them that Jesus is the reason for the season. Of course he is.

Christians seemed to have made peace with celebrating Christmas as a one-day holiday in the secular tradition as opposed to celebrating the entire Xmas season. To truly celebrate it as the birth date of Jesus, one would have to begin with Advent (the coming of Christ), to the birth on Christmas day, to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Then there is Lent and the Holy week. And lastly, there is the resurrection at Easter. No wait! The Christmas season ends with the Epiphany. Speaking of which, I am about to have an epiphany of my own.Does sacrificing a religious version of a historical event in exchange for a secular version worth the sacrifice? Do Muslims in secular countries really appreciate the implications of such a compromise if their holidays were to be nationalized? Do they really want to acknowledge Eid al Fitr as a national holiday if the eventual price is that the fasting before the feasting is only observed by the most observant, while everyone else was encouraged to celebrate it without observing its religious significance?

Most Muslims would agree that Islamic holidays should never be diluted and commercialized in exchange for being acknowledged and afforded the status of being a national holiday and part of the pop culture establishment. Innovations (bid’3a) in Islam are not something which one can negotiate in exchange for social assimilation.Islam is not a religion that is only spiritual. It is also highly legalistic; and as the spiritual is adjustable, the law is unyielding. And while the nature of Christianity is to maintain some flexibility, so long as its central theme of give and forgive remains unmolested, the central theme of Islam is give, forgive, and never forget. Never forget that the concrete preservation of its rituals and prayers are a paramount part of its public policy: the policy that religion must remain unsullied, which means that secular states must stay out.

It is very ironic, considering that the opposite might be true in Muslims majority countries, where holidays are nationalized and state endorsed. The conclusion to be drawn here is that religions, all religions including Christianity, are better served when the state does not legislate. The only ones who stand to benefit from nationalizing religious holidays are Wall Street and Wal-Mart. Christians may have borrowed a pagan tradition to encourage pagans to turn to God, but the secular establishment has borrowed Christian traditions to encourage people to turn to greed (end of epiphany).Back to our Christmas story, where the secular narrative of worldly, innovative, ambitious love of life, in all its glorious electrifying splendor and obsession with joy just makes me want to say - God bless America! And where the religious narrative of giving and caring for the dispossessed, the hungry, the weak, and the outcast makes me want to say- God bless America!

You see one must never straddle the fence in matters of faith and fortune. One must choose between these two stories, because they stand on two separate and opposing tracks. For as Rudolf the Red nosed Reindeer once said, “standing in the middle of the road is dangerous, because you get knocked down from both sides” (or was that Attila the Hen?) Either way, this is my story and I am sticking to it. Happy holidays everyone, and to all a good night.

Inas Younis is a US based freelance journalist and commentator. Her opinion pieces, book reviews, and personal essays have been published on various websites and magazines. And her work was featured in the anthology, 'Living Islam Out Loud'. She can be reached at inasyounis1973@gmail.com