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Embrace the goodwill of Easter

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Deseret Morning News Archives

The man who wrote the most popular Easter song of all time was not even Christian. Then, for good measure, he went out and wrote the most popular Christmas song in history. He could have written about Arbor Day and made the song a hit.

Irving Berlin might have been Jewish, but that didn't keep him from appreciating the feelings surrounding high holy days that were not of his tradition. Today, "Easter Parade," "White Christmas" and — for good measure — the love song "Always," stand as emblems of sharing and about things that are close to the human heart, whatever form they take.

It is a trait that Americans are quickly squandering. In today's world, self-interest tends to trump empathy. Instead of working to appreciate other traditions, Americans battle to secularize — or spiritualize — them. But Easter was never a bone to pick in the life of Irving Berlin. It was a feast of feeling to enjoy. If he couldn't sing about the doctrines associated with the day, he found he could sing about the nostalgia, tenderness and vitality the days evokes.

Would that more Christians would do the same for Passover and other celebrations of rebirth in the spring. Most Christians, in fact, already include symbols from ancient religions in their celebrations. Those eggs and rabbits? Fertility symbols from a culture that loved to celebrate regeneration. And those Easter fashions and new Sunday wear? A symbol of emerging from the cocoon of winter and celebrating the beauty and bounty of coming alive.

People can't always understand or grasp the deeper theology and inner workings of other faiths. But what they can understand is the simple joy and power that comes from feeling deeply about such things. They understand it because they've felt such things themselves. And once that common chord is sounded, looking past differences to make true connections becomes easier.

Why Irving Berlin could so easily see such things while others struggle is a mystery. But perhaps it has to do with another song the man wrote, a song that has become one of the country's most beloved anthems: "God Bless America."

If you keep your focus on a higher ideal and a sense of "oneness," the smaller stuff — such as appreciating the heartfelt holidays of other people — comes more readily.

Call it empathy.

Or better, call it the Berlin principle.