Christmas long ago stopped being a purely religious occasion. People of all faiths or none in particular enjoy the same seasonal traditions: shopping, exchanging gifts, decorating homes, preparing and eating a festive meal, and rarely spending a commensurate amount of time to reflect on the true meaning of the holiday.

In today's America, where political correctness can reach unnecessary extremes, Christmas has morphed into a secular event in which no one is made uncomfortable by having to hear the Christmas story. Even a fleeting recitation of biblical events by a cartoon character on TV can make some people nervous. But they need not worry; Linus is no evangelist.

That the name Jesus might never be uttered by many supposedly celebrating his birth is interesting, but not surprising. There's always the possibility that amid all the opening of presents and stuffing of stomachs that someone may open a Christmas card or a gift with a message that makes them think. If not, there's still value in mindlessly soaking up the spirit of the season.

With the San Bernardino shootings still fresh in our memories, Christmas provides a needed respite from our preoccupation with terroristic threats and war.

Though we remain leery of declaring victory over a recession that technically ended years ago, Christmas gives us added incentive to break records shopping online or hit the road with car tanks filled with cheap gasoline.

Christmas allows us to slide into a new year on a positive note, our hearts still overflowing with glad tidings and merriment.

Those feelings won't last, of course. It usually doesn't take long for the world to remind us that holidays are few and far between. But when that reality reasserts its presence, we can look back in fondness at Christmases past, and perhaps consider exactly what we were celebrating.