I am not the kind of Christian that you read about. For one, I am not famous by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not the pastor of a large multi-campus megachurch. I have never created, packaged or sold any ministry program, my face glossy upon the packaging. I don’t have book deals or Oprah specials under my belt. If you passed me on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice. I am that type of Christian.
Secondly, and more importantly, I am not a jerk. I don’t angrily scream Bible quotes into other people’s faces. I don’t stand on a soapbox and tell people they are going to hell. I have never once grabbed a placard and picketed someone’s funeral, or doctor’s office, or school. This means that when the media wants a quote for their newest religious-focused-ratings grab, they probably won’t go to me. I am that type of Christian.
It is because I am that type of Christian, representing probably 95% of self-proclaimed Christians throughout the world, I thought I would comment on the current ‘controversy’ going around on regarding the use of “Happy Holidays.’ Some love it. Some hate it. These are my thoughts.
Firstly, here is why I am NOT offended if someone wishes me “Happy Holidays.” As popular as I may ever think or wish I am, the reality is not everyone in my city knows me. This means that the random people I pass on the street may not know that I am a Christian. After all, I don’t walk around with a halo or a glow, or Neon sign that reads ‘I’m into Jesus!’ On any regular day, wearing my jeans and a sweater, I look just like every other person. This means that people don’t instantly know what holiday I celebrate. The use of ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Season’s Greetings’ may be a simple way to be polite given a lack of knowledge about my religious sensibility. Added to this is the fact that many working in the public sphere may be under specific policy to be non-specific with their holiday greetings. This means there is no reason for me to rant about a “War on Christmas.” I gracefully accept their well wishes and the intent in which it is offered.
More than this, I don’t get offended by ‘Happy Holidays’, because the phrase actually lends itself to the ‘de-Santafying’ of Christmas. Although probably unintended, there is an acknowledgement with this phrase that Christmas is linked to the Christian faith. By suggesting that “Merry Christmas” is potentially offensive to someone outside Christianity, one is affirming not only that Christmas is undeniably a Christian celebration, but also that he or she cannot truly or rightly celebrate Christmas except from within the tenets of Christian faith. Why? Because Christmas is about Jesus, not Santa. The songs are about Jesus. The symbols are about Jesus. The day is about Jesus. Santa, on the other hand, quite rightly belongs to the realm of consumerist propaganda. Santa lives in such non-descript places such as ‘Winter Celebration’ and ‘Holiday Festival’ – celebrations that are about fun, family, happiness, and most of all presents. I’m not saying this is bad per se, but if you want a deeper meaning to your celebrations, a meaning that defines not just the season but all of life itself, then you must move beyond generic Hallmark holidays and embrace the richness of faith. Thus, odd as it may sound, the use of ‘Happy Holidays’ actually honours and celebrates Christian faith and its connection with Christmas.
All of that being said, here is why I DO get offended by the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ and why I do not use it. While I do not mind if someone says ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, I do object to the assumption that this is a more appropriate or respectful phrase than “Merry Christmas.” I reject the assumption that unique expressions of faith must get watered down to some lowest common denominator lest it be deemed hurtful, inappropriate, or insulting. Many of the memes out there insinuate that saying Merry Christmas amounts to
some sort of religious bullying. Really? How exactly does being true to one’s faith amount to ignorance? Why does saying “Merry Christmas” necessarily mean I am acting like a jerk?
Personally, I find the thought that respect for other faith-systems must involve a muting of my own quite preposterous. The respect I give to other people, allowing them to express their faith (or non-faith) honestly and authentically, is the same respect I claim for myself. When I say Merry Christmas to someone, I am not saying it because I am telling them that Christmas is the holiday that they should be celebrating, I am saying it because it is the one that I am celebrating. I am declaring something about myself. I do not celebrate Kwanza, or Hanukkah, or Festivus, or Wintertide. I celebrate the birth of Jesus and this celebration is incredibly specific. This isn’t a judgement on other celebrations any more than celebrating my anniversary is a judgement on single people. I celebrate Christmas because I am a Christian. And you know what? That’s ok. I am allowed to have a Christian faith. I am allowed to rejoice in my Saviour’s incarnation, and all that it means for me. Pretending that any particular celebration is not happening, or is in some way inappropriate, is what is really offensive in this whole thing.
So what do we do in this complicated world that keeps telling us that we must get offended by the wrong holiday greeting? We relax. We refuse to give in to controversial hype. I promise not to get upset if you say “Happy Holidays,” or some variation thereof to me. I will take this phrase as an expression of good wishes. I will choose to hear you saying that you hope my personal celebrations be filled with Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Conversely, I hope that you also will choose not to be upset by my use of “Merry Christmas.” I hope you choose to hear my sincerest prayer that your holiday celebration be the most wonderful celebration it can be, in the truest and most authentic expression of what it is for you.
After all, does wishing people a joyful celebration really have to be this complicated?