Several years ago, I had the honor of opening a meeting for an organization I admire. It was mid-December, so I started with, “Happy Holidays, everyone!” Before I could say more, a grumpy-sounding retort rang out from someone in the audience: “Merry CHRISTMAS!”
Two things struck me about this. First – three words was a new record for how quickly I get heckled during a speech. Second – Grumpy wasn’t answering me, he was correcting me. To which I can only respond, spare me.
I have nothing against the phrase “Merry Christmas” – in fact, I say it a lot – so please don’t bust my chops on those occasions when I don’t. There were non-Christians at the meeting; in deference to them, I kept my greeting generic. That’s all. I wasn’t rebelling, or trying to make a point, or taking part in the alleged War on Christmas; I was just trying to make sure everyone felt welcome. Does that attitude really fly in the face of Christianity? I certainly hope not.
This is probably the best time for a couple of disclaimers, to avoid losing what few of you are still reading.
1. I’m not criticizing Christmas, Christianity or Christians in general, as I happen to be one. Of course, I don’t belong to an organized religion; rather, I’m Episcopalian. Some folks really believe that, but they don’t understand Episcopalianism. It’s too rare around here. If you gathered 100 random citizens, you’d be hard-pressed to find four Episcopalians. But that’s okay – wherever there are four of us, you’ll probably find a fifth. (Maybe that’s it – maybe the drinking makes people think we’re not Christians.) I can only imagine what critics would say if they knew I’m also a recovering Catholic; I bet Grumpy would have heckled me even sooner.
2. I don’t condone haphazardly replacing the word “Christmas” with “Holiday.” Phrases like “holiday tree” and “holiday carol” just sound stupid; we can call those things what they’ve always been called and still not be guilty of forcing our religion on someone. The only thing I’m defending is the use of the phrases, “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” I love Christmas, and am not attempting to minimize it in any way when I choose not to say, “Merry Christmas.”
But there are organizations and individuals who loathe those phrases, even to the point of boycotting businesses who use them in advertising. One example is the American Family Association (AFA), perpetrator of what I like to call, “Mary’s Boycott.” They publish an annual “Naughty or Nice?” list of retailers (ironic that they use Santa references while insisting that others refer only to Christ). Each company on the list is categorized, based on the number of times the word “Christmas” appears in its seasonal advertising. Those companies that don’t measure up are considered to be anti-Christmas, and AFA urges their supporters to boycott them.
Yep, they feel so strongly about forcing other people to pay homage to their holiday exclusively, that they’re willing to engage in financial terrorism. Is it just me, or is that evil? During times of economic downturn and record unemployment, trying to run someone out of business is tantamount to treason, and I hate that they claim Jesus as the reason for their treason.
They’ve boycotted Gap multiple times, culminating in 2009, when the company agreed to add the word “Christmas” to its advertising. Gap released an ad with dancers chanting, “Go Christmas!” Too bad they also chanted, “Go Solstice,” prompting AFA to keep the boycott in place and claim, “Gap compares Christmas to the pagan holiday.” (How does the word “go” imply a comparison?)
After Gap promised to develop an ad campaign with a “strong Christmas theme,” AFA ended the boycott, but guess what? Gap’s margins have continued to decline, prompting the company to announce plans to close one third of its American stores by the end of 2012. I’m not saying AFA’s boycott was responsible, but if it was, I hope they sleep well this Christmas, knowing that their supposedly faith-fueled actions have ensured that thousands of people will be unemployed before the next holiday season comes around.
But as their former chairman, Don Wildmon, said about people being offended, “Tough luck … this is an overwhelmingly Christian country.” I think we all know what this guy is full of, and it ain’t the Holy Spirit. If he can’t see anything inherently wrong with boycotting businesses that don’t celebrate Christmas, he needs to Google “Germany April 1933.”
Other groups and individuals agree with Wildmon, saying an attempt to avoid offending non-Christians is a ridiculous attempt at being politically correct. But if being PC means giving in to an unreasonable demand to avoid a term because it offends people, what does that imply about their demand that we avoid saying “Happy Holidays” because it offends them?
“Happy Holidays” is inclusive, and anyone who feels Christmas is minimized by the mere acknowledgement of other holidays, is pretty insecure in their faith. It’s nothing more than common courtesy, and is that such a bad thing? Not to this Christian. And not, I would hope, to Christ. He was known for humility; do you really think He would want AFA making such an uproar over His birthday?
Also, the phrase has been around as long as I can remember, and I’m old enough to have predated political correctness. It’s actually the title of a popular Christmas song composed in 1942 (well before the PC movement) by Mr. White Christmas himself, Irving Berlin.
Timing is another reason I opt for “Happy Holidays.” Starting around December 21st or so, I’ll say “Merry Christmas” and nothing else; any earlier, and it’s too soon to be specific about the day itself. If “Merry Christmas” refers to the date of December 25th, then it’s okay to wait until that date is closer to say it (after all, you wouldn’t wish someone a Happy Thanksgiving on November 1st). But if “Merry Christmas” refers to the season as a whole, then that pretty much validates use of the phrase, “Season’s Greetings.”
One more reason I say “Happy Holidays” is, I’m referring to numerous dates, not just Christmas Day itself. Even if one subscribes to the chest- and Bible-thumping view that we should acknowledge only the days that Christians can celebrate, that’s still a long list. In that light, “Happy Holidays” means nothing more insidious than, “I hope you have a happy, merry and/or blessed Thanksgiving, Advent, St. Nicholas Day, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, St. Lucia Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen Day, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa (no, it doesn’t contradict or replace Christmas), Feast of the Holy Innocents, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Solemnity of Mary, Feast of St. Basil, and Epiphany.” Can you really blame those of us who boil it down to two words?
Look, we own the season; everybody knows it. Do we have to be so insecure about it? We lose nothing by saying, “Happy Holidays.” And Christmas isn’t going anywhere.
Even the Grinch knew that: “Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more.”
Happy Holidays – every one.
[Originally published in the November/December 2011 issue of Midtown Magazine.]