"Christmas is just commercialized materialism. Nobody even thinks about Jesus anymore because all they're doing is putting up lights, decorating some pagan tree and watching nonsense like Santa and Frosty on TV. Besides, Christmas isn't even endorsed in the Bible. The story is in two of the Gospels, but the date isn't given — and Jesus never tells us to celebrate it. It's a holiday created by the Pope to broker a political deal with 4th-century pagans. And, worst of all, most people don't even have the decency to say, 'Merry Christmas,' on the birthday of our Savior, instead kowtowing to political correctness with the inane 'Happy Holidays!'"

Christmas has a funny way of bringing out some people's inner weirdo. And if you've ever heard some Christian critic of Christmas, then you've certainly heard something like the arguments summarized above.

So, on behalf of my fellow Christians (or at least in their stead), I'd like to apologize to the secular culture for our behavior at Christmas. We've been dumb and mean — and I'm sorry. Please forgive us. There's absolutely no excuse for our behavior, precisely because it's so completely out of line with what we actually believe. 

Allow me to explain. 

At Christmas, of course, we celebrate the gift God made of Himself to us in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Bible, this occasion was proclaimed by angels, celebrated by all of heaven, attended by the wealthy and the poor and induced people to poetic outbursts (Mary's Magnificat and the Benedictus of Zacharias). It's an event of such unique historical significance that we actually base our calendar on it. The nature of the gift was that God condescended to become human, live a perfect life and die in our place so that we could be in right relationship with Him. That's what we Christians are celebrating.

But over time, that story and gift have been misunderstood, neglected and distorted so that the holiday is barely recognizable to those of us who cherish it. None of this is a surprise to the Giver. He knew it in advance still gave it freely. This is because God is an extremely good gift-giver. He knows that if you give a perfect gift to a widely diverse group of humans, everyone will handle it differently, especially over centuries of time. 

On the other hand, most Christians in America can't say the same thing about ourselves. Christmas has evolved. Once banned by the Puritans, for a brief time in the 20th century it became a decent, religious holiday for most observers. But in the last 50 years or so, much of the transformation lamented above has taken place. For most Americans, Christmas is lights, trees, songs, shopping, food, gifts and family. And this drives some of my fellow Christians nuts — because our God gave this awesome gift of Christmas and it's been ruined by removing Jesus and replacing Him with all this other claptrap.

And so what?

Completely devoid of Christ, Christmas for millions of people is a wonderful time of the year, focused on family, fellowship and generosity. If the only things that happed every December 25 were that people sent cards, wrote e-mails and got together with loved ones for a big meal and some movies, why would that be such a bad thing? It's far better than nothing at all, right? It's a second Thanksgiving. And who doesn't love Thanksgiving? 

But for my critic friends (and perhaps myself in former years, I must confess), the fact that our gift has been played with and distorted has left them terribly rankled. Why? Because we're very bad gift-givers, the sort of relative who gives a child a toy and then stands over him brooding at every little miscue in his own unique way of playing with it. "You're not doing that right! Stop that right now! You're ruining it! I'm going to take it back if you don't use it the proper way!" Ah, there's nothing quite like the joy created by the self-indulgent tyrant's "gift."