OBJECTING TO THE TRADITIONAL GREETING
IS SELF-CENTERED AND UNGRACIOUS
Signs, websites and assorted messages encouraging use of the phrase, “Merry Christmas,” have appeared once again, demonstrating that sensitivity over the traditional greeting still prevails. Here’s a piece I ran last year on the topic. It would seem that my thoughts are still relevant and perhaps worthy of a second go-round…
It’s that wonderful time of year once more when sugarplum fairies are dancing and angry secularists are out looking for a fight.
Indeed, it just wouldn’t seem like our annual feast of love and joy if somebody didn’t have his nose out of joint over the traditional yuletide greeting, “Merry Christmas!”
Yes, you’ll hear that the “War on Christmas” is only a gimmick ginned up by conservative think tanks and activist groups — a mere headline on all those yearend fund-raising letters…
How can there be a “war” on something that dominates our lives between Halloween and New Years, and accounts for the bulk of fourth-quarter corporate earnings? That idea is nothing but a straw man, a piece of phony baloney, you rightwing nutcase!
Then how come it’s now “holiday” trees being illuminated in front of state capitol buildings? How come I keep hearing “Happy Holidays!” from the greeters at Walmart?
Oh, it’s just a matter of not offending people who don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s all. Get with the program, you narrow-minded jerk. American society is multicultural today. Christians don’t have the right to force their religious observance on everybody else.
And there, my friends, is the fundamental misunderstanding behind the whole “Merry Christmas” controversy.
A case can be made — Lord knows, the ACLU has made it, over and over again — that manger scenes on public property contravene the separation of church and state. This situation isn’t really mitigated by setting up a menorah next to the crèche. Not everyone who isn’t Christian is Jewish, of course. Anyway, Chanukah moves around and doesn’t always coincide with Christmas.
Campaigns to “Keep Christ in Christmas,” pursued vigorously over the years by groups such as the Lutheran Walther League and the Catholic Knights of Columbus, have helped to remind the faithful of this holiday’s spiritual core. But they’ve proven little more than rearguard actions against encroaching materialism while giving substance to secularist complaints about how the churches are too in-your-face with Christmas advocacy.
The answer to the “Merry Christmas!” controversy lies in the holiday itself. And here we must look at origins.
Christmas is the great festival of our culture, not to mention of our consumer economy. And what we celebrate isn’t the winter solstice or the ancient Roman festival of Sol Invictus, both of which played into the timing of the holiday. No, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus. Its signature element, exchanging gifts, was inspired by God’s gift to us of his human incarnation, the Christ Child, as well as by the gifts brought to the stable in Bethlehem by the Wise Men.
Now, you may not believe that any of that stuff actually happened. You can dismiss it all as so much pious myth. But those are the roots nonetheless.
And while, over the centuries, Christmas has taken on a wild array of cultural trappings, the birth of Jesus remains its central motif, despite fierce competition from shopping. No matter how extensively the holiday has been reconfigured to meet secular commercial aims, Christmas remains Christian in its essence.
(Incidentally, I would urge Christians to stop moaning about commercialization. The merchandizing potential of this holiday has been indispensable in giving Christmas a cultural prominence and social punch unequaled by Easter, the actual highest holy day of the Church year.)
The point is: Christmas is mine — mine, as a Christian — and if it’s not yours, that’s tough.
When I wish you “Merry Christmas!” I’m wishing that you might share in the blessings I perceive in the coming of God into the world. It doesn’t matter if you don’t care to use the expression. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t believe in God.
Saying “Merry Christmas!” is not forcing some unwanted religious observance on you. It’s me offering you a token of good will in reference to something I value. In other words, it’s an honor. And if you’re so self-centered and ungracious as to reject my offering, then that’s your failing.
Shame on you.
But hey! — Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and we really all need to be nice to one another. Especially in today’s multicultural society.
If you want to wish me a happy — you call it…
…or whatever happens to fall nearest to Christmas on your own cultural/religious calendar — for that matter, if you even just choose to say “Happy Holidays!” — I’ll accept your wish gratefully. As long as it’s given in good will.
Do me the courtesy of accepting mine.
Evangelical author Rachel Held Evans cautions believers not to fall into despair over what they may perceive as secularist “persecution.” She makes some good points in a recent post on her blog…
“The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up….
“Religious persecution is real. Suffering is real. But sharing the public square is not persecution and being wished ‘happy holidays’ causes no one to suffer.”
Well…yes…that’s true. And it is encouraging. But I think Evans may be a bit too optimistic in the face of hostility toward traditional religious faith.
Objections to “Merry Christmas” often reflect genuine bitterness on the Left over the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of American society (and despite considerable erosion, those underpinnings are still there). Language sensitivity is just the part of the multi-cultural iceberg that shows.