Christmas too is subject to extremes. Remember the war on Christmas? While there's no formal truce -- to save face, Bill O' Reilly still fires off a round or two at night -- it's essentially over. On its behalf, let it be said it was the shortest of the Bush wars and the one with the fewest casualties.
Christmas enfolds many traditions, not all Christian, or even civilized. As Christianity conquered the Roman Empire it absorbed its religions, adapting their deities and festivals. The first recorded observance of Christmas wasn't until 354 A.D., about the time the Roman God Janus took early retirement.
Christmas co-opted the solstice rituals it displaced, including their music, greenery, lights, drinking and carousing. (The office Christmas party is a lineal descendant.) Christians who wax proprietary about the day should tread carefully; one day the pagans may want their wreaths back and who knows what else.
Oliver Cromwell thought Christmas so debauched he banned it. So did Massachusetts Puritans; from 1659 to 1681 you couldn't cook a Christmas goose in Boston. It wasn't till the 19th century that Christmas took on the trappings we know, owing much to the publication in 1823 of Clement Moore's "A Visit from Saint Nicolas" and in 1843 of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
Some leaders of religions and even some politicians think the task of separating out the sheep from the goats falls to them. I'm no theologian but I remember the endless parables of love and inclusion, wherein prostitutes, lepers, Samaritans and tax collectors were all let in and loved without condition. He never once said judge thy neighbor.
Can there be any greater folly than a war fought over religion? Is it so much easier to fight for our principles than to live by them? According to a wise priest I know, "Jesus didn't ask to be worshipped; He asked to be followed, which is harder." We search for signs of winter and Christmas, and settle for what we find until at last we look within.
By all means, look within, but keep one eye peeled for the religious and right wing forces of darkness who will not be happy until you are forced to live by their whacko beliefs.
I came up with the idea that the Human Genome Project may be the key to Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men. As soon as they find the "greed" and "lust for power" and "everybody who's different from me is bad and needs to be fixed or killed" genes and eliminate them.
If you get a lump of coal in your stocking, enjoy it. Energy prices are up.