Happy generic unoffensive quasi-religious winter holiday!

This time of year is full of time-honored traditions, like trimming the tree, hanging the stockings, and complaining about people saying, “Happy Holidays!” I’m going to tell you what I think about this issue, but I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say, and you may not like it one bit.

The basic controversy is that our culture at large is moving away from religious-specific statements like “Merry Christmas!” to more generic, all-inclusive statements like, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” I think it was Tommy on the Rugrats who came up with “Merry Christmakwanzaakkuh.” Which of course really ticked off those folks who celebrate the Winter Solstice.

Some say the reason for this shift to a blander seasonal salutation is political correctness. A Christian humor site I subscribe to sent out this version of a season greeting: “Best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most joyous traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, but with respect for the religious persuasion of others who choose to practice their own religion as well as those who choose not to practice a religion at all.”

In an effort not to offend anyone, we take all the salt out of our language. People bemoan the lack of “Merry Christmas!” signs at Walgreens, and resolutely offer the Christian greeting to grocery clerks in a tone more fit for a battle cry, as if they’re saying, “Merry Christmas – wanna make something of it?”

So what do I, a Christian pastor, think of this? What’s my take on the Scrooges who want to trade in Christmas for a generic winter holiday?

 I say, “Good. They can have it. Let them cheerily wish me a ‘Happy Holiday’ until icicles dangle from their nose.”

I have no problems with “Merry Christmas” disappearing from our larger culture. In fact, I applaud and encourage it. Why? Because it’s the best chance we have of reclaiming Christmas for what it truly is.

Look, we Christians lost our grip on Christmas a LONG time ago, and no matter how many “Christ is the reason for the season” bumper stickers we produce, we’re never going to forceably wrest it back for the culture’s grip. It’s too far gone. Christmas is no more a religious holiday than Britney Spears is a candidate for sainthood.

That’s why people are in such an uproar about the diminishing of “Merry Christmas.” Why should it offend; it’s just an innocent holiday hello! That term no longer signifies a religious observance; if anything, it marks the beginning of a retail season, like the green flag being waved at the Indy 500. People don’t see “Merry Christmas” as having any potential to offend because it doesn’t really mean anything.

The truth is that, like it or not, Christmas is supposed to be an exclusively Christian holiday. If someone went around wishing me a “Happy Hanukkah” all the time, while I wouldn’t punch that person in the face, I would be a little perturbed and contemplate knocking their yarmulke off. If we want to honor the true meaning of Christmas, then we must honor the fact that at best it has no meaning for non-Christians, at least in the religious sense, and at worst it can be offensive and off-putting, which won’t win you many converts.

But here’s the real reason why I’m happy to give up saying “Merry Christmas” in non-Christian settings. Wouldn’t it be great if we could reclaim Christmas as a primarily Christian celebration? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could say “Merry Christmas” only when we actually meant it in the most joyous, hopeful sense? I say “Happy Holidays” to the 7-11 clerk because I truly hope he has a happy holiday, regardless of whether he is Christian, a Winter Solstician, or celebrates Festivus (“for the rest of us!”). But at church, I say “Merry Christmas,” because I want my fellow Christians to truly experience the miracle that Christmas brings for their life and their faith.

What I hope is that the idea of Christmas can be insulated from the culture’s grip. Give them “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” They can have it. No one is complaining that “Happy Hanukkah” has lost its meaning, becuase you hardly ever heard it said in the marketplace. If only “Merry Christmas” could gain that same kind of scarcity. If Christmas begins to disappear from the larger culture, maybe the church can repossess it, wipe off all the yucky cultural residue, give it a good spit-shine, and place it back up on the mantle. If we can do that, maybe, just maybe, Christmas could actually be about Christ again. Is that too much to ask Santa for?

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

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10 Comments

Filed under Church/spirituality

10 responses to “Happy generic unoffensive quasi-religious winter holiday!

  1. Susan Bracken

    I noticed and read about the whole Happy Holiday’s thing going on and I personally have mixed emotions on this.

    I looked up the history of Hanakkuh and Hanakkuh is a holiday that celebrates the Jew’s regaining the temple from the Greek’s.

    Kwanza is a non-religious holiday that celebrates things of this earth.

    Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the arrival of our Savior who was sent for ALL the world, the celebration and rememberance God sending his son to earth to SAVE us ALL.

    While the world converts to Happy Holiday’s I refuse to give up Merry Christmas since Christ came for All of us and it’s our CHOICE to accept
    Christ(mas) or not. So now day’s I say first Merry Christmas, because I do wish all people to be Merry and find Christ in Christmas cause when they do they will be Merry all year long! Then I follow-up with and Happy Holiday’s to wish them well on their other Holiday celebrations.
    Plus I love saying Merry Christmas!

  2. Kim

    Great thoughts! I had never actually looked at it that way, but wouldn’t that be wonderful!

  3. Ann Hajicek

    Merry Christmas has left my emotional thoughts because it is used so often in so many different ways that the words are almost meaningless. Here is a situation where,” It’s the thought that counts.” counts. I know what Christmas means to me and have some idea of what it means to other Chrstians.
    I like the Hispanic celebration. All leading up to the 25th is religious. Gift buying starts afther the 25th and receiving of gifts is the 6th of January.. That DOES put Christ in Christmas

  4. Kendra Ro

    Wow, Kory. You have summed up what I have been feeling, but have not been able to really put my finger on. I know plenty of Christians who get mad about the benign “Happy Holidays” but who are just as caught up in the craziness of the retail season as any agnostic I know. And *that* makes *me* mad.

    But you really went a step farther than I would have ever gone…take “Merry Christmas” out of the vernacular for good? I don’t know…to me that is just one step closer to not recognizing the holiday at all. And I think for non-believers who celebrate Christmas, even in their secular way, to get them to acknowledge Christ once a year just might get them to reflect on it a little bit. There is always hope!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always.

  5. Great comments, everyone! Kendra, I’m not saying we should completely stop staying “Merry Christmas.” Like Susan, I love saying it! I’m saying we should only say it when we can mean it. I really like your comment that non-believers saying “Christmas” might cause them to reflect on the meaning…I never thought of that! But I’m afraid when most non-believers say “Christmas,” they are not thinking whatsoever about its meaning; they’re simply giving a generic holiday greeting (as Ann says, it has become meaningless). Is it taking the Lord’s name in vain to say “Merry Christmas” and not mean it in the Christian sense? That may be going too far, but I hope you get my intention. Let the secular world have their winter celebration, and let us Christians reclaim Christmas for its original intention. It may be way too late to make that distinction now, but it’s an interesting thought.

  6. Gale Killinger

    I agree that I would much rather say, “Merry Christmas” than “Happy Holidays”. Saying, “Merry Christmas” to me means that we are celebrating Christ’s birth. I do find myself hesitant in saying it to just anybody. If I don’t know if a person is a Christian, I will say, Happy Holidays.
    Teaching at a school, I am aware of watching wether I say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Saying “Merry Christmas” to the students is not encouraged. If the student chooses to say it or write about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza… that’s okay, but we as teachers are discouraged.
    I find it very difficult seeing the true Christmas (not the commercial part of this holy season) dissappearing in schools, public offices…

  7. Kendra Ro

    So, I shouldn’t expect, or even want, the Walmart greeter to say “Merry Christmas” to me, because he probably doesn’t mean it? Even if he didn’t mean it in the same way that I do, I think that people’s hearts can be softened, especially this time of year, by saying Merry Christmas. And who knows….maybe, just maybe, he will walk into a church one day, and meet Christian friends, and get walloped over the head by the true meaning of Christianity. I’m sure it has happened!

  8. Good point, Kendra. You’re giving me another perspective on this, which is helpful. I guess I’m not saying we should make an effort to stop saying “Merry Christmas”; but we also shouldn’t get to upset if people choose not to say it. But I would still say that most of the people who say “Merry Christmas” don’t mean it in a religious sense; it’s simply the current way of saying “How ya doing?” I equate it to someone saying “Oh my God!” without that saying having anything to do with their belief in a higher power. As Ann said, it has become meaningless. Kendra, I appreciate your optimism. Maybe I’m limiting God’s power and ability to work through this phrase on the heart of a non-believer. Thanks for helping me see that, Kendra!

  9. Barb Osicka

    [A week behind as usual; no one can accuse me of inconsistency, anyway.]

    It seems to me that “Merry Christmas” has actually gained in meaning in the past few years, because, as Gale’s comment indicated, in our Chanukkah/Kwanza/Saturnalia-conscious society, people are very aware that there are options and their greeting indicates a preference. I can sure understand why teachers and folks who want to represent generic approval (sales people and corporate workers, for example) ride the fence safely with “Happy Holidays,” and it doesn’t offend me at all. But I wouldn’t be bothered, either, if I were wished “Happy Chanukkah.” I’d assume that person was Jewish and wished me joy of the season in which he celebrated that festival. Conversely, I don’t have any problem either, when speaking as an individual, in sincerely saying “Merry Christmas” to anyone. I am a Christian (and this is a chance for me to acknowledge it) and I do truly hope that those I’m greeting will exzperience the “merry” that overflows from my cup of Christmas joy. It’s a chance for me to offer a witness to that element of my faith.

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