Merry Christmas, everyone! Oh wait, what if you are British? Happy Christmas, then! Oh sorry, you’re Jewish? Happy Hannukah! Channukah? No? Maybe you celebrate Kwanzaa? How about I just say Happy Holidays! Oh, I see, you object to political correctness. Okay, well then, how about I just say Have a nice #*$@^&% day, then? Hmmm?
When did it become so damn hard to wish someone a Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate? These days, we even get lambasted for saying Happy Holidays because we’re not ‘keeping the Christ in Christmas’ and this, apparently, marks us as godless tree-hugging liberal heathen soldiers in the so-called War Against Christmas, and earns us eternal damnation.
What if we’re just trying to be nice?
How have we become so focused on only the words while ignoring the intent?
When I was in high school, I worked the obligatory mall job. During the holiday season, I often finished a transaction with some sort of holiday greeting. I do remember trying to discover little hints to help me determine which holiday the customer might be observing, but I often defaulted into “Merry Christmas.” Nine times out of ten, it wasn’t a problem. The few people who corrected me did so in a way that suggested they weren’t offended but just wanted to be acknowledged.
Since then, it’s gotten more complicated. People have become more sensitive about the desire for their beliefs to be recognized, or they have just found the guts to be more vocal about their opposition. A more neutral approach to the confluence of holidays was needed. And so, to avoid unnecessary conflict, we started wishing each other “Happy Holidays” and our cards often say “Season’s Greetings”.
But apparently, that’s not enough anymore. It seems like the backlash against political correctness has gotten aggressive enough that now people are offended by the neutral greetings. The governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, has even been criticized for putting up the state ‘holiday’ tree instead of ‘Christmas’ tree.
Merry Christmas. It feels like the intent behind that particular greeting has subtly changed. It’s fine among friends who know each other and are aware of each other’s traditions, beliefs, or preferences. But in the past few years, if a stranger uses these words to me, it suddenly feels like a challenge for me to either take the bait and fight about it, or *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* admit that we are both persecuted Christians but aren’t afraid to show it.
I don’t appreciate that. Do not include me in any conspiracies without my permission. And certainly do not tell me or even imply what I’m ‘supposed’ to say, or what I ‘really’ mean to say.
I choose my holiday greetings based on one thing and one thing only: what I want to say. I have grown uncomfortable with overtly religious greetings because it feels hypocritical for me to use them. I haven’t been to church in years, and I have severe reservations about organized religion, even though I grew up quite Catholic (some would say because I grew up quite Catholic…but that’s a story for a theology blog…). So I avoid explicitly religious greetings because they make me uneasy, not because I am afraid of offending anyone.
And given the pagan roots of so many of our Christmas traditions, it also feels disingenuous of me to insist that this winter tradition is solely a Christian phenomenon. If we’re going to insist on following the original traditions and language, then perhaps we should all be wondering how to wish each other a good Saturnalia. In fact, a group called Freedom from Religion put up an alternate nativity scene in the capitol building in Madison, WI, and has gotten both cheers and jeers for its implication that Christmas traditions were not originally Christian constructs.
Or, if we insist on the holiday having started with the birth of Jesus and not earlier, then aren’t we still slightly off the mark with the greeting? The Greek kristos means ‘annointed one’, and is the root of our word Christmas. But shouldn’t we be referencing Aramaic instead, since it was more likely than Greek to have been Jesus’ first and primary language? Shouldn’t we be keeping the mshikha in Mshikhamas?
The point is, I have a reason for why I choose my words, and I opt for neutrality with the intention of sending good wishes to my fellow humans while not violating my own sensibilities, which do, by the way, include the desire to not offend. I’m not ‘taking the Christ out of Christmas’ out of fear of an agenda of political correctness. I’m basing my actions out of a sense of principle, good will, and just plain old civility.
I’d wager, in fact, that most people who offer holiday greetings are acting out of the same motivations, whether they know it or not. They would like to say something nice and spread a little cheer, and so they offer greetings. Some choose a greeting affiliated with a specific religion’s celebration, and some don’t. Either way, the purpose is to simply acknowledge a shared experience, whether or not the audience observes this holiday season for religious, commercial, or cultural tradition.
In other words, discounting the rote script that many a drone in the retail business follows starting on Black Friday, the intention behind the greeting is similar, and yet we’re still getting hung up on all the baggage that comes along with the words instead of remembering why we might want to say them in the first place. We start quibbling over the inconsequential semantics of peripheral political agendas and forget that it’s time to celebrate whatever it is you are going to celebrate, be it the birth of a savior, the miraculous 8-day supply of oil, the African culture and community, Chinese take-out on December 25th, or the Feats of Strength.
In that spirit, I bid thee all rejoice! For even the maddening frustrations of the season remind us that whatever you call it, this is a special time to spend with loved ones, to reflect and remind ourselves of what is important to us, and to strive to be better people in the new year.
How will you be celebrating Holiday this year?
Edited to add: I didn’t say it individually in comments so as not to become too repetitive, but I wish you all the most wonderful of holidays this season. Happies and Merries all around!