CHRISTMAS isn't for everyone - despite what the recent Christmas Village brouhaha seemed to show.

And I say that out of respect to all Christians for whom the holiday is a very dear, and very religious, event. To make Christmas a holiday for everyone is to take Christ out of Christmas, and I have no doubt that, to devout Christians, that's offensive.

I'm not a Christian, and I don't celebrate Christmas. But that doesn't mean I take no pleasure from the celebration of Christmas by Christians. I love to drive around after dark and marvel at the beautifully lighted houses and yards.

I listen to Christmas music on the radio, and truly enjoy some of the moving and deeply religious words and music. "O Holy Night" is a favorite, and I especially like and am truly moved when I hear the chorus sing "fall on your knees."

The opera "Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Gian Carlo Menotti never fails to bring a tear to my eye. And John Rutter's "Brother Heinrich's Christmas" chokes me up. (If you've never heard it, you really should, regardless of your religion.)

I can do without "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," the Chipmunks and a lot of the other totally secularized aspects of the season, but that's simply a matter of taste. Santa Claus doesn't do much for me, but I will still say, "Amen" to "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" by Francis P. Church, the editorial first published in the New York Sun in 1897.

Having said all that, I'm still a bit uncomfortable seeing Christmas trees, wreaths and various other Christmas decorations on government buildings and in government offices. You can call them "holiday" decorations all you want, but we all know that they aren't being put up to celebrate Hanukkah. I don't care how many menorahs and dreidels you include - if it weren't for Christmas, those decorations wouldn't be there at this time of year.

I think it was wrong to replace "Christmas" with "Holiday" at the German Christmas Village in Philadelphia. I'm glad that reason prevailed, and "Christmas" was returned. While our government shouldn't be promoting any religion even a little bit, it shouldn't be

anti-religion either.

A Christian president has every right to a tree in the White House, but I'm not comfortable with a "National Christmas Tree" on the Ellipse. It's worth a trip to Washington, but the "National" designation doesn't sit well with me.

The grocery clerk who wishes me a "Merry Christmas" or, more likely these days, a "Happy Holidays" no doubt means well, but she's assuming that I celebrate some holiday at this time of year. This year, Hanukkah will be over for more than two weeks before Christmas arrives, so thereafter "Happy Holidays" is either a disguised "Merry Christmas" or the clerk doesn't know that Hanukkah is long gone.

I understand the dilemma the clerk and my Christian friends face. They don't want me to feel left out when they wish everyone else a "Merry Christmas."

I do go to Christmas parties, and I notice the momentary hesitation when friends who know that I'm Jewish reach to shake my hand after extending the traditional Christmas greeting to all the others. They aren't sure what, if anything, to say. Wishing me a "Happy Birthday" would be quite a gamble on their part. And about a month too late.

The reality is that there's probably no solution to the Christmas season "problem" that will make everyone happy. I think we all need to accept that, and not rain on someone else's parade.

Christmas is important to Christians, and non-Christians shouldn't try to diminish its significance so that they can get under the "holiday" tent. Nor should Christians try to bring non-Christians into the tent by euphemistically calling it merely a "holiday." Christmas is more than that - it's a holy day with great significance for religious Christians.

I concede that we're a "Christian nation," though not in the sense that the Christian right says it. And I'm truly grateful that the Christian majority in this great nation allows me the freedom to be other than Christian. For that, I'm willing to tolerate some personal discomfort.

Howard Lurie is professor emeritus of Villanova University School of Law. Contact him at