While the likes of Jon Stewart and others in the liberal intelligentsia might dismiss the idea there is a War on Christmas, the truth of the matter is that with every passing year people are more and more reluctant to wish one another a Merry Christmas. At times, people are expressly forbidden from saying Merry Christmas, as was the case this year at an elementary school deep in the heart of Texas. This is no accident and we are the poorer for it.
Although a recent poll indicates more Americans prefer to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, I believe most of us deep down would rather say Merry Christmas. In my own observations, most people settle for saying Happy Holidays. This term has been generally used as a catch-all phrase for Christmas and Chanukah, and in recent years has encompassed the celebration of Kwanzaa. But this year Chanukah began the night before Thanksgiving, thus giving birth to the term Thanksgivukkah. Although this convergence won’t happen for another 7,000 years it does seem particularly odd to say Happy Holidays when the last night of Chanukah took place on December 5.
Now I have nothing against anyone saying Happy Holidays if they mean it from the bottom of their hearts. No Salvation Army bell ringer ought not to have their bell rung if they choose to say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.
Nevertheless, I do find that when people do say Merry Christmas they are far more circumspect about it. The greeting is accompanied by a qualifying statement. For instance, there is “Merry Christmas and whatever else you might celebrate,” or “Merry Christmas. I hope I didn’t offend you.” Something is terribly amiss when one feels self-conscious or is afraid of angering someone about conveying good wishes to a fellow human being.
As most people know I am Jewish and do not observe Christmas. Well, this hasn’t always been the case. I should mention that when I lived in Ottawa, there were a number of occasions that I would spend Christmas Day with my aunt, uncle, cousins, and maternal grandparents and found these experiences to be enjoyable. I must also admit that I enjoyed singing Christmas Carols and participating in the Christmas play when I attended elementary school in Thunder Bay, Ontario. In fact, in the fourth grade, I had the pleasure of narrating ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Let me compare those experiences with one I had last week with my roommate Christopher. He invited me to a Winter Solstice Service at the First Church of Boston, which is a Unitarian Universalist congregation. This service was conducted in darkness, illuminated only by candles. In between the somewhat pleasant and inoffensive musical interludes there was poetry read about the bleakness of the winter season as well as five minutes of silence. During this service, there was no mention of God, Christ, or Christmas. What was also absent from this service was any kind of joy or warmth. I could not wait for the service to end.
Now I’m sure there were people who genuinely enjoyed that Winter Solstice service. That’s fine with me. Yet I cannot help but think that such a service is a by-product of an American and Western culture that has been increasingly critical of Christianity and consequently has been made to feel guilty about celebrating Christmas.
While I don’t generally partake in Christmas festivities I do see the joy and merriment it brings to people. So when someone says Happy Holidays to me, I say Merry Christmas to them. If someone says Merry Christmas to me, I say it back to them. Why tell them that I don’t celebrate Christmas?
So when a UPS driver wished me and my colleague a Merry Christmas the other day, I found it quite heartening. This also delighted my colleague who also has a strong preference for saying Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. The UPS driver told us, “I know some people aren’t comfortable saying Merry Christmas. But it’s Christmas. I always say Merry Christmas. This is America. If I can’t say it here then where I can I say it?” Amen!!! And with that, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.