Christmas has gotten very contentious this year. This is not just the usual disagreement over whether Christmas has become too materialistic — or remained too spiritual. No, this year the fuss is over whether the mention of the the word “Christmas” should be eschewed entirely. Some would have us pretend that the national holiday that falls on December 25th is not necessarily Christmas.
This year it happens to be the beginning of Chanukah as well, and it is always just a few days after the winter solstice and right before Kwanzaa, but there is little point in ignoring the fact that Christmas is a national holiday or that it is actually called “Christmas.” And yet, there are schools where students and teachers can be punished for saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” There are also people suing stores for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
This strikes me as a silly debate. I say “Merry Christmas” most naturally, because that is what I am celebrating. I say “Happy Chanukah” most naturally to Jewish friends and customers because that is what they are celebrating. “Happy Holidays” feels like a euphemism to me, and I feel odd saying it. But I certainly accept it from others as an expression of good will. What kind of Grinch would a person be to become offended by any expression of good will?
But this year, this small issue has become so large that I am scrutinizing customers carefully before deciding what to say to them. Santa Claus earrings? They get a “Merry Christmas.” The next person, who gives me no clues as to whether they are observing Yule, or Divali, or Festivus, gets a cheerful “Thank you,” while I hope that they won’t be offended that I haven’t said “Merry Christmas.” Those with “Christ died for us” on the checks are a tough call, since they may be Puritans, but I usually chance the Christmas greeting.
Now, I am not saying that Christmas shouldn’t be controversial, or that everyone should accept it. There are plenty of good reasons to ignore or even disapprove of Christmas. Maybe you aren’t Christian, and you don’t care to join in with some other religion’s holiday just because the federal government happened to choose that one to observe. Maybe you are a Christian, and you don’t care to have your sincere faith interlarded with pagan festival leftovers. Maybe you don’t like to make merry on command, and would rather wait until some time when you feel spontaneously merry. (This third reason puts you in the Scrooge category, of course, but I can see that continual injunctions to be merry would take a toll on someone who felt this way.)
I would accept any of those as valid reasons. But the thing that people are getting their knickers in a twist over, the reason they do not want to hear the words “Merry Christmas!”, the reason towns are calling their public Christmas trees “holiday trees” is this: not everyone celebrates Christmas.
So? Not everyone celebrates my kids’ birthdays either. Hey, not everyone celebrates Cinco de Mayo or Chinese New Year or Mardi Gras, and that doesn’t stop grocery stores from having specials tailored to those holidays. We do not carefully say “Happy Holiday!” around the Fourth of July in case we are talking with a Canadian, or say “Season’s Greetings” on St. Valentine’s Day. You may not celebrate Elephant Awareness Day, Shakespeare’s birthday, or Martinmas, either, but that is no reason for the jolly celebrants of those days to quench their enjoyment of those feasts.
No, if you want to object to public displays of Christmas joy, you have to come up with a better reason. Apparently, 40 Santa Clauses recently went rampaging around Auckland, so the possibility of riots in New Zealand might be a good reason to avoid excessive Christmas display. Or the snippiness of the people who are objecting to “Happy Holidays.” That would be a good one, too. Or the cost of ostentatious Christmas display, compared with what the money used in that way could do for people in need.
Or just give in and enjoy the whole thing, knowing that normal life will return in just a couple of weeks.
I have a story for you today, “Christmas Every Day.” Read it to your children if you have any, or to yourself, but don’t miss it. And the song for today is “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” You can see and hear cartoon animals singing it here, another thing you absolutely should not miss.