Credits: Maksim Pasko - Fotolia
It seems every year there's a fuss by those who think advertising "Christmas" somehow denigrates non-Christian religions; nativity scenes of baby Jesus in the manger provoke lawsuits and complaints by civil liberties zealots.
"Happy Holidays" replaces "Merry Christmas."
Christmas trees are now called Holiday trees.
I would argue that "Christmas" has become international and multicultural, with non-Christians sometimes best reflecting the spirit of Christmas. I was in Vientiane, Laos, for Christmas in 1960.
The country had just had a bloodless military coup staged by Kong Le, a 26-year-old paratroop captain who was probably too gentle to be effective. The Communist Pathet Lao soon took over.
Laos' legendary name, "Land of a Million Elephants and Pink Parasol," seemed very un-Communist.
At the time, the king had recently died and it was said his body was immersed in honey awaiting burial in a year's time.
Vientiane in those days boasted that proportionately it had more Mercedes-Benz cars than any other country - yet only about 15 miles of paved roads. The cars belonged to diplomats who had recently taken root in Laos, as the two Vietnams next door eased into war.
I flew into Laos from Thailand on the same plane as
Dr. Tom Dooley, who was famous at the time for starting a jungle hospital even though he had terminal cancer.
Dr. Dooley wanted to be interviewed, and was impatient that I'd never heard of him. He gave me a bunch of clippings about his work so I could interview him more knowledgeably.
He even chartered a plane to fly us to his jungle hospital - expecting me to pay for the charter. I didn't have the cash so it fell apart. He and I didn't much like each other.
A Canadian survey team was in Laos in connection with the Mekong river, which was an artery for transportation.
I spent Christmas Eve with them, until fights broke out over whether the Toronto Maple Leafs were a better hockey team than the Montreal Canadiens (in those days they were). The only hotel on the main street of Vientiane had no front wall, but was open to the public by day and shuttered at night.
Sofas and chesterfields mingled with dining tables. It was all very French colonial tropical - reminiscent of a Somerset Maugham novel.
Small lizards ran up and down my hotel room's walls, and over the wash basin was the shower - with water from a cistern on the roof, heated by the sun. The bed had a mosquito net - an absolute necessity.
After a boozy evening, I awoke Christmas morning to dazzling sunshine, and felt a bit like Ebenezer Scrooge as I looked onto the street, bustling with holiday activity.
Everywhere were Christmas wreaths, and streamers, and a jolly atmosphere as local, open-front stores did what they could to reflect Christmas. Local trees were festooned with decorations.
In the hotel lobby that opened to the street, I had breakfast (French omelette) while Laotians passing by would stop, smile broadly and shake my hand and wish "Joyeux Noel."
The hotel management was French, and we few guests were wined and given complimentary treats.
It was all strange but charming. And it made one realize that Christmas is a time for everyone, enjoyed by everyone, especially in a Buddhist country.
Ever since, I've felt that those who would eliminate or reduce the impact of Christmas, out of concern for non-Christians, miss the message. They don't understand the significance of Christmas or its universal appeal to all people, not to just one religious faith.