It's not enough to say “Happy Holidays!” Or “Kwanza Greetings!” This holiday season, in the search for that common denominator that brings warmth to all people of good will, I will propose a motto, a toast, from my tradition, Hebrew, the ancient language of the Jews.
A traditional toast, “L'Chaim,” means, literally, “To Life!.” As such, it is the cement that binds humanity together. And it is the core value of humanism, secular humanism, at that, joining mankind together in the bond that recognizes the value of human life.
Christmas is the day of birth celebration for the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, accepted as the Messiah by those Jews who were the nascent Christians. The event of a birth, and, to Christians, particularly the birth of the Messiah, was, and is, an event to celebrate.
But the birth of a baby in any human group is an event of joy and hope, and the universal reaction to a human child of any race, religion or color, is one of love, warmth, acceptance, joy. Isn't the reaction to a baby, anyone's baby, an almost irresistible smile? Would not anyone, with no thought needed, react instinctively to protect and shelter a helpless child. This goes to our humanity, and not to our religion. I contend that this social response to the defenseless is a characteristic of our humanity and it is universal. It is a small step to a respect for life, to a reverence for life.
When we say, “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah,””Season's Greetings,” are we not saying, in the form that we anticipate is best understood and appreciated, “I respect your humanity, and I value your life.” The rationalization may be religious, that you are one of God's children, or it may be humanistic, that you are a human being who shares mortality with the greeter, but the implication that cuts across all, is best understood by me, as “To Life!” To your life and to those whom you hold dear. “To Life, L'Chaim!” To those amongst us live and love and join others in doing the same, with joy and understanding and empathy.