Merry Christmas!

Even to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Earlier this month, Newsom hosted the ceremonial lighting of the Capitol Holiday Tree and expertly avoided any mention of Christianity — a stunning feat considering he was overseeing the lighting of a giant evergreen tree in December (talk about cultural appropriation!).

Who knows why he so willingly joined the league of haters. I asked his office and they gave me a non-answer answer. I’ll get to it in a second.

But I mean it: Merry Christmas.

By haters, I don’t mean people of other faiths, or those who love the spirit of the season but don’t have much of a belief in God. Believe what works for you.

I mean the people, like Newsom, who apparently think a mere mention of the name Jesus Christ will cause them to burst into flames or that the phrase “merry Christmas” is an attack on them.

It’s a beautiful seasonal greeting. In the spirit of Christmas I hope everyone finds some peace and happiness over the next few weeks, spends time with loved ones and gets some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

If you are of another faith, please accept my “Merry Christmas” as a sign of respect. And if you send a greeting back my way, I accept it with gratitude.

Because that’s how this whole civilized society thing works: We share what’s important to us with each other and allow people to be who they are.

I’ve celebrated Christmas for my entire life, but this is the first year I will celebrate as a full-fledged follower of Jesus Christ. I’m actually very excited about it.

I’ve written about my nascent faith a few times over the past nine months or so. I’m certainly in no position to preach, since I’m still figuring it out myself. But I would be doing a disservice to readers and God by not at least mentioning that in the Gospel I have found what I was looking for: A source of strength, structure, purpose and tremendous relief from the feelings of isolation that have plagued me at any given moment throughout my life.

And I suppose that’s why I was so disappointed by Newsom’s ceremonial Chrisma … err … Capitol Holiday Tree lighting.

Newsom’s office told me that the ceremony was meant to be inclusive. There was a rabbi explaining the lighting of a Hanukkah menorah, an interfaith choir, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, a young student with developmental disabilities, Native Americans who offered prayer, a mariachi singer who worked in “Navidad,” a poet who spoke of unity and the announcers for the Giants and Dodgers.

It was an inclusive affair and everyone was invited — everyone except Jesus.

Sure, Christmas was mentioned a few times and there were two Christmas songs (that didn’t mention Jesus), plus a version of “Joy to the World” (which is overtly Christian normally but was altered to just repeat the lyrics “joy to the world). But it was obviously scrubbed of all Christian context.

Christians don’t own December, so having an inclusive affair is wonderful. But it wasn’t the lack of Jesus that stood out so much as the lengths Newsom went to avoid Him. It’s kind of sad when you think about it.

Maybe Newsom was hoping to pick a fight and get mentioned on Fox, because he is in campaign mode, after all.

But here’s what Newsom doesn’t get: Jesus’s influence is everywhere. He can’t escape it.

The Christmas tree tradition, for example, was started by German Christians in the 1600s. The influential Protestant reformer Martin Luther is credited with being the first to add lights, which of course were candles back then.

But it’s bigger than that. Our entire sense of history is based on Jesus’ life, embedded in the calendar. He inspired countless works of art. Many children had little to no value before He came along. He elevated the status of women. His followers changed the way we care for people with the invention of hospitals. He made humility a virtue. He is a uniter. Billions of people in the world are His followers and billions more have followed Him throughout time. Followers like Mother Teresa and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. are held up as some of the best humanity has to offer. He is the single most influential person who ever lived — even to those who don’t believe in Him.

And those are just historical facts.

That doesn’t mean many of His followers haven’t acted poorly — some of the worst atrocities throughout history have been committed purportedly in His name. But that’s not His fault.

Approximately half the state identifies as Christian. That isn’t an attack on anyone else’s beliefs — just as the existence of people with different beliefs isn’t an attack on mine.

Newsom is right that this is a season of inclusion. But inclusion is about giving everyone a voice and opening ourselves up to different ideas and cultures and customs, even if we sometimes find those things challenging. Inclusion is not about scrubbing away our differences.

In the spirit of unity, in the spirit of love, I again wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

The above comes from a Dec. 21 piece by Matt Fleming in the Orange County Register.