Well, it’s that time of year again when we are bombarded with terms like, “the war on Christmas” or “put Christ back into Christmas.” We have public displays of religion and people complaining about them and people complaining about people complaining about them.
Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are short and cold and the nights are long and even colder. You’d think in such a dreary environment that people would welcome any opportunity to give or receive wishes of love, peace and joy.
For many people, that is usually the intent behind wishing someone a “Merry Christmas.” That is also the intent behind more generic terms like “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings.” It is also the intent behind terms like “Happy Eid.”
So what’s the problem? Are these terms then interchangeable or do they each have specific meaning? Considering the uproar, I think it obvious these terms are not interchangeable. As always, words have meaning and it all comes down to meaning what you say.
Using the word Christmas isn’t always wrong. If you actually mean to say “Christmas” and not “the holidays” or “this time of year” then say Christmas. That is perfectly acceptable. There are many festivals and events going on at this time of year and Christmas is just one of them. We have Pancha Ganapati, Kwanzaa, Yule or Solstice, Bodhi and many more.
The problem arises when people use the word Christmas to refer in a broader sense to this season. Office “Christmas parties,” are one example. Not everyone in the office might be celebrating Christmas, so what is really meant is “holiday party.” Otherwise, using the term Christmas is excluding those who do not celebrate Christmas. Sure, a non-Christian can go to the party but it is clear that Christmas is what is being celebrated. If it isn’t Christmas, specifically, that is being celebrated, then do not call it a Christmas party. A generic holiday party can be perfectly inclusive. Of course, if a Christian bookstore were to have a Christmas party, that would probably be fine since presumably the whole staff would be Christian and the party would actually be about Christmas.
What is most mind boggling is that the people who complain most about the political correctness of “Happy Holidays” tend to be the same people who want to “put Christ back into Christmas.” If you want to focus on the religious side of Christmas, you have to get Christmas out of the public square. If they expect to have Christmas associated with mall Santas, they should accept that the religious meaning of Christmas will be played down for the public. Then again, if they wanted to focus on the religious aspect of Christmas, why would they want to be associated with mall Santas in the first place? Mean what you say and say what you mean. If you want Christmas to focus on the religious aspects — and it is a religious holiday — treat it as such and keep it within your religious community.
I’m not too impressed when a stranger wishes me “Merry Christmas.” I’m an atheist and I don’t celebrate Christmas. Of course, I don’t expect a stranger to know that but it is telling that the stranger is assuming or expecting I am a Christian. Often, the person just means to send wishes of joy, peace and love and they may be ignorant of their faux pas so I’ll usually just respond by saying, “have a safe and happy holiday.” However, when people insist on using the term “Merry Christmas” they are being incredibly self-centred. They don’t say it to spread wishes of joy, peace and love they say it for their own benefit. It’s almost like saying, “Happy Birthday” to everyone else when it is your birthday. If they really wanted to send wishes of joy, peace and love they would use a more appropriate term that would convey those sentiments to anyone regardless of their religion (or lack thereof.) “Merry Christmas” just doesn’t cut it.
Of course, if you see a stranger wearing a crucifix or other obvious Christian symbol, go nuts and wish them a Merry Christmas.
If you mean Christmas, say Christmas. If you don’t mean Christmas, don’t say Christmas. If you mean to send joy, peace and love then send joy, peace and love not empty Christmas rhetoric.
In closing, I’d offer you a Joyous Kwanzaa or a Happy Solstice but I’m not sure what that would mean for you. Instead, I’ll just offer love, joy and peace.