I have a lifelong sense of ambivalence about this issue. I was not born a Christian, but spent 11 childhood years at an orphanage with strong Christian indoctrination. Except for some name-calling and fights with Christian kids, my years were pleasant and free of overt prejudice against my heritage.
Throughout my years at the school, we had to attend chapel every morning and twice on Sundays. The religious services were conducted more as history than rabid religion, and we studied both the Old and New Testaments. Along with teachers and school officials, older students often conducted the services and readings. We sang many hymns, all based on Christian themes. However, if families requested, the school permitted Jewish kids to attend services at city synagogues on Saturdays, and Catholic kids to attend mass at outside churches on Sunday.
Every Christmas, our living quarters and school were festooned with all the holiday decorations, including the manger scenes. The Christmas carols, obviously, all extolled the birth of the Christ child. Each of the kids in the school was given a new set of clothes and a holiday present from the owner of a local department store. Incidentally, he was Jewish. I never joined the school choir, but I remember several times going out at Christmas time to sing carols.
Not having any deep religious convictions … my dad died when I was three … none of this bothered me at the time, and it still doesn’t. In fact, like the other kids, I always looked forward to enjoying all the Christmas trappings, gifts, sweets and special dinners.
Now almost 70 years later, I’m not religious at all, and the Christmas celebrations don’t bother me. I still joke to Christian friends with the comments I often made to my Christian schoolmates: this is the one time in the year when you guys stop oppressing minorities and sing about good will to all men. Considering what racial horrors that have happened to the world since my childhood, it isn’t much of a joke anymore.
However, in this age of all kinds of rabid religious and racial sensitivity, I can understand how some non-Christians may be offended by seeing holiday decorations put up by government entities, especially knowing their tax dollars are used to buy the stuff. I also know my history and the ever-going argument calling for the strict separation of church and state.
Therefore, my bottom line opinion is that I have no problem if officials of cities and towns want to put up Christmas decorations. I’d just demand that those individuals pay for it themselves out of their own pockets … not mine.