I took an extended vacation from work (and blogging) over the Christmas and New Years holidays. I sincerely hope everyone has found joy thus far in the Christmas Season. Also, as a reminder, in our Catholic faith the Christmas Season begins on Christmas Eve – and it doesn’t end the next day!
I love Christmas. I encourage everyone to find time to continue to celebrate this season through Saturday, which is the end of the official celebration of Christmas (the baptism of our Lord). Keep in mind that we have not yet celebrated Epiphany, which is really the feast celebrating the first time representatives outside of the Jewish world met our new King.
It’s really easy to forget to continue this celebration because we all start off the New Year, we get back to work, and life resumes somewhat back to the normal that it was in the days preceding Christmas. Keep it up!
Since I took a break, I have not had my follow-up on the Pope and Climate change. There will be one, if not two, follow ups to that post. I not only believe it is an important topic, but it has always been a scientific topic of interest of mine, and so I will be spending time on it, both from a scientific perspective but also from a faith perspective.
In the meantime, I wanted to just place a few thoughts down regarding the annual weirdness around whether or not people should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or anything else.
I find the whole thing an odd mixture of political correctness, and also a sincere recognition that not everyone believes all the same things. So here is a litany of thoughts on the subject:
- Christmas is on the calendar. To not mention the word at all, or to be unwilling to wish someone else that you know celebrates Christmas is simply stupid. We wish people a good Memorial Day or Labor Day whether or not we actively celebrate the meaning or intent of that day (most of us really don’t. Maybe some of us do on Memorial Day, and fewer yet could even come up with an explanation as to how Labor Day came to be and why. And yet, none of have any issue wishing each other well on those days. That’s because there’s no religious association attached to it. Well, for those people who are not believers, it still doesn’t negate the holiday itself, even as a secular celebration. So there should be no issues with wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but even if you want to be sensitive to the matter of religious affiliation, if you know someone religiously or culturally celebrates it, just say it.
- We’ve reached the point where wishing people a Merry Christmas almost feels like you’re taking a stand on something. That bothers me. I say it because I want to, but I, too, have been browbeat with the political correctness to the point where it somehow feels bold or courageous to wish someone a Merry Christmas. I hate that feeling. It’s messed up. Further, people who read an e-mail that says “Merry Christmas” probably feel like the person sending it just took a risk of offending people. That’s even more messed up.
- Having said all that, I don’t have anything really against “Happy Holidays,” under certain conditions:
- If someone has no idea whether the people they are addressing are believers, celebrate Christmas, or are Jewish, Muslim, or anything else (and there is a more than reasonable chance that the situation exists) then see nothing wrong with a generic salutation.
- If I know with certainty that someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas then I would give them a generic salutation. I would have no issue with talking about my own faith or celebration of Christmas, but in this situation why would I purposely wish them a happy celebration of something they don’t celebrate? While I may wish in my heart they did celebrate it, it would be somewhat pointless outside of any other evangelization effort. It would be like wishing someone in another country a happy US Independence Day.
- If I make the mistake of wishing someone a Merry Christmas who doesn’t celebrate it, the appropriate response is “Thanks.” Don’t be a jerk. It is also appropriate, in the case of someone you may be running into more often, to clear up the misunderstanding charitably by saying, “Why thank you. Just so you know, though, I don’t celebrate Christmas but I certainly hope you have a Merry Christmas.” There’s nothing wrong with that response.
- If you are a Christian and you know that someone celebrates Hannukah, then wish them a Happy Hannukah, for crying out loud. It is not against your Christian religion to acknowledge someone else’s celebration. I’d say the same thing about Kwanzaa, but I’m still convinced that’s generally made up and I know of nobody who actually celebrates it. But for the five people that do, if you find them, then by all means extend a Merry Kwanzaa, or whatever the appropriate greeting, is.
- The most annoying thing to me in this whole thing is that a number of good Christian people now seem scared to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. It’s one thing to take some precautions around more general audiences, or in uncertain situations. But if you are a Christian, and I know you’re a Christian, and you know I’m a Christian, and you wish me a “Happy Holiday” then I want to whack you upside the head. You have now officially conditioned yourself into being in “safe” mode and you aren’t even thinking about it.
In the end, does it all really matter? Well, yes and no. What clearly matters most is what’s in the heart and what your intent is. Some people, in my opinion, turn this a bit too much into a war against political correctness, while some do go too crazy on the political correctness. And there are tons of ancillary issues around Christmas that lead to all of this – arguments about displays on public property, songs sung in schools, etc. But most people just want to wish people well, and we should recognize that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t push back when we reach the point of silliness. It’s good to not get overly dogmatic about things, but it’s also good to stem the tide of cleansing Christmas from Christmas.