Q. According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, Americans are split almost 50-50 what to say this holiday season — "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." Some Christian leaders and conservative commentators have declared "Happy Holidays" as a secular war on Christmas and say the greeting secularizes what should be a religious celebration. Others say it's a non-exclusive phrase that is better suited to a multicultural and multi-religious society. Do you think this is true, or do you think either phrase is applicable in this day and age?
I can understand retailers desiring to be inclusive in their season's greetings so as not to alienate any customers, but with 90% of Americans celebrating Christmas, it would seem silly to ignore the source of the lion's share of profit, acting as if the number-one reason for Black Friday and the countdown of shopping days doesn't all have to do with the vast-majority observance.
It does seem that this year has shown a bit more Yule awareness though, as checkers have wished me "Merry Christmas" frequently when I finished my purchases. Maybe it's just obvious what to say to someone leaving with rolls of nativity wrapping paper. I'm guessing if buying frozen latkes, the Jewish-specific well-wish would then be forthcoming.
Hanukkah is actually mentioned in the New Testament with an adult Jesus apparently in attendance at its celebration (John 10:22), but a military victory with a miraculous legend attached doesn't compare with God actually showing up personally in the manger that first Christmas, splitting time between BC and AD.
And no black Christian I know celebrates Kwanzaa, which was invented in the 1960's by educator and black activist Dr. Maulana Karenga as a specifically African American holiday. Nonetheless, time has a way of blurring questionable beginnings of such things as Kwanzaa and making a mountain out of the previously subdued molehill of menorah lighting and dreidel spinning. But isn't that all so American.
The thing is, Christians, and Americans in general, celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year. It's all-important, and all-inclusive, in that the Hebrew savior born in Bethlehem came for the whole world. When we wish anyone "Merry Christmas," we reveal our allegiance to God, and we desire the recipient to bask personally in his gracious Christmas blessing. Now the minority of you out there who think the insipid "Happy Holidays" is sufficient, then you go right ahead. As for me and my house, "Frohe Weihnachten, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, Joyeux Noël, and Merry Christmas!"
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
I have no problem with saying "Happy Holidays" when I'm in a public setting or speaking with someone whose religion I'm unsure of. It's just good manners, in our multicultural, post-Christian setting, to recognize that not everyone celebrates the birth of Jesus, and that some are celebrating other religious holidays this month.
Actually, it's becoming this sort of rebel, underground thing, to mutter "Merry Christmas," with a quick exchange of twinkled eyes, to someone you know is Christian – like a secret handshake or a super-cool spy code. (I don't really get out that much; I have to take my rebel behavior where I can get it.)
So "Happy Holidays" is fine. What bothers me — really bothers me — is when people afraid to honor Christmas as a religious holiday try to change its meaning into something more secularly acceptable.
A local college ends its holiday concert with Santa coming out on stage to say, "The real meaning of Christmas is love!" No, the real meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ. Celebrate it; don't celebrate it; whatever. But don't take it over, erase that inconvenient baby Jesus, and stick a more marketable label on it.
I swear to God I've heard on the radio this year a version of "Joy to the World" that changes the line, "He rules the world with truth and grace" — 'he' meaning Jesus, actually — to "Peace rules the world, with truth and grace." What, there's not enough songs about reindeer and snow and Santa, you have to write Jesus out of his own songs, too?
If all this month means to you is family and fun and gifts and parties, then wallow in them, by all means. Go crazy; have a ball. But there's plenty of material out there with which you can do that without taking over the religious stuff. Leave that alone, please, so that those of us who do celebrate the Nativity of Christ can have our secret super-spy Merry Christmas.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church