It’s that time of year again. The stores are decked out with trees and ornaments. Neighborhoods are covered in endless strings of lights. Everyone’s freaking out trying to get their last-minute gift shopping done. Soon, we’ll be traveling here and there to celebrate with our families. It’s all quite exciting. But in the midst of it all looms a linguistic battle that is so petty and so ridiculous that it actually sucks the joy out of the season for many.
I’m referring, of course, to the needless, endless tirade against the phrase, “Happy holidays.” For years, certain Christian groups have been on an all-out attack against the phrase claiming that the only appropriate holiday-themed greeting this time of year is, “Merry Christmas.” To them, any other language is demeaning to Christ and the fact that Christmas is a holiday celebrating his birth. They see the phenomenon of non-Christian holiday greetings as a threat to their celebration of Jesus.
But it’s not. It’s really, really not. And this week, I’m here to tell you why. If you’re reading this article and you already agree with me, maybe this will be a little encouragement for you to keep up the good fight. If you’re reading this article and you’re already offended, maybe this will be an opportunity to re-think your approach to others this year. Either way, I hope you’ll read on. Here’s my spiel on why, “Happy holidays,” isn’t a problem.
It’s simply a matter of fact that there are multiple holidays celebrated this time of year. Generally, the “holidays” are thought to extend from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day (both of which, by the way, are secular holidays) and to include Christmas. But this time of year also covers other holidays, including religious festivals like Hanukkah (older than Christmas) and cultural celebrations like Kwanzaa. In fact, this time of year has been considered a time of celebration for all of human history, probably because of the astronomical wonder of the winter solstice.
Christmas itself is a by-product of this special time of year and not the source, which sort of undermines the whole, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” argument. While it’s true that the holiday is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, we don’t actually know the date of the original event itself. And so, early church leaders had to choose a date to commemorate Christ’s birth. They picked December 25 because it was the day of the pagan festival Saturnalia, giving them a way to turn a holiday people were already familiar with into a sacred day. So really, Christmas was the original usurper of the season, not any other holiday. Even if other people are trying to steal Christmas from Christians (which they are not), isn’t it a little hypocritical to be upset about it? Just a thought.
But here’s the thing: There’s no reason we as a society cannot recognize and celebrate multiple holidays during this time of year. We live in a secular, pluralistic country, and that is not a bad thing. Diversity is something we should recognize and celebrate, not resist. How boring would it be if we all celebrated this time of year the exact same way? Isn’t what makes it special the fact that each person and family finds their own unique way to commemorate the season?
I think that the reason Christians tend to get so uptight about this issue is that we have enjoyed a monopoly on power throughout our nation’s history. From day one, Christians have been in charge. So even though officially the United State is a secular country, many of the policies and even the calendar of national holidays have a Christian bend to them. This is called hegemony, when one worldview dominates and suppresses all others, and the Christian hegemony in the U.S. is dying. Other religious and cultural groups are stepping up, pointing out the hypocrisy of our way of doing things, and demanding to be recognized. But this is a good thing. Suppressing others because they disagree with us is not only wrong; it’s distinctly un-Christian. And it needs to stop.
It’s not a culture war; it’s a recognition of diversity. It’s not an attack on Christmas; it’s a celebration of other holidays, too. Because Christian opinions aren’t the only ones that matter, and Christian holidays aren’t the only ones that matter, either. We can celebrate Christ’s birth without getting offended by those who choose to celebrate something else during this time of year. We can honor the spirit of Christmas and recognize that other holidays are going on as well.
So this year, instead of assuming the worst when someone tells us, “Happy holidays,” how about we respond with love instead? Here’s a radical idea: If someone wishes you well, maybe you should do the same back to them. Isn’t that what this season is really all about? Spreading joy and peace? As people of faith, it’s up to us to lead and to set an example for how this time of year should be celebrated. Because if we’re acting like a bunch of humbugs, how can we expect others to do any differently?