THE GREETING “MERRY CHRISTMAS”
EXPRESSES GENEROSITY OF SPIRIT
There are plenty of folks who still charge Christians with cultural imperialism. Likewise, the impulse to defend the traditional salutation asserts itself regularly.
While I surely see that some of the anti-“Merry Christmas” sentiment expresses rejection of Christianity (or even outright attacks on the Faith), there’s also a good deal of simple misunderstanding about what the greeting really conveys.
Back in December of 2013 I posted an essay that attempted to clarify what people mean when they wish someone “Merry Christmas” (or at least what I mean by it). I’ve reposted the piece in subsequent years.
As it remains relevant, here it is again…
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.
I came across this nice little meme that captures the spirit of my essay…
A moment of brazen self-promotion…
Let me note that I’m offering MY BROTHERS KEEPER, my novel about the family of Jesus, at a special pre-Christmas discount:
Only $20 (that’s 20 percent OFF the $24.95 cover price).
Click HERE to visit my book sale page, then scroll down below the photo of the cover, where you’ll find an order button. I’ll be delighted to send you an autographed copy of the novel — or as many as you’d like; they make perfect Christmas gifts…