Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays"

It's become a holiday tradition. Every year it surfaces - the outrage when either greeting is chosen.

The "separation of church and state" crowd reacts indignantly when "Merry Christmas" is used. How offensive! How insensitive to the non-Christians in our society!

And the "Christmas celebration purists" are outraged when people, fearing the indignant reaction of the separation faction, choose to use "Happy Holidays" instead.

I s'pose everybody needs something to get all worked up over. In the immortal words of 20th-century statesman and philosopher Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?"

Let's study for a moment, these sources of such offense, and the people who get so offended.

First we've got the Church/State Gatekeepers. They, of course are the ones who make sure we're all protected from offensive manger scenes on public property, singing of Christmas carols in our public schools, etc. I even heard that Santa Claus was banned from one school district this year. After all, argued a patron of the district, Santa is "Saint Nick," and therefore might conjure up offensive religious sentiments.

Can Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph be far behind?

But - how about the other side in this divisive issue?

You put up your decorations - and they by-golly have to be superior to the Joneses, up the street. You don't want people to think they are more religious than you are!

You gather the wish-lists from your people - at least, the cooperative ones.

My bride is not cooperative. She said she just wants "peace in all the earth." Yeah, right! Who would want something like that for Christmas?!!

Then you endure the nonstop barrage of "Christmas" oriented TV commercials, newspaper advertising, etc., etc.

Disgusting! Christmas, indeed! Surely "Happy Holidays" is much more appropriate, since associating any of the merchandising with the birth of Christ is a huge stretch... no?

(My least favorite are the jewelry ads with the little "Christmas morning dramas" depicting clever ways of giving jewelry, and how speechlessly delighted the Missus will be when she is presented with the spendy little box.)

Then you go to the Wal-Mart (or to the Mall at 1am on "Black Friday" morning), and spend a couple hours getting jostled by frenzied shoppers, discovering the stuff you wanted is already sold out, and standing in long checkout lines.

At this point, you're really filled with that "peace on earth, good will toward men" spirit, right? And then a bedreggled clerk bursts the bubble by saying, "Happy holidays," instead of the requisite "Merry Christmas." And that is what ruins it for you? Oh, the humanity!

From an historical standpoint, "Happy Holidays" is probably more accurate. After all, there were various pagan holidays long before calendars, coinciding with the Winter Solstice. Even the most skeptical scientific mind recognizes that the days start getting longer following the Winter Solstice, promising a season of warming and renewal. The Christians decided to celebrate their most significant holiday in conjunction with everybody else's big day.

And besides, NOWHERE in scripture does it say that Jesus was born on December 25th. In fact, Jesus was born in April. That's the time of year when you could've found shepherds keeping their flocks in the fields - not mid-winter. And besides... Joseph went to Bethlehem to be taxed, and everybody knows that Tax Day is April 15th!

So - are you a "Merry Christmas" person, or a "Happy Holidays" person, or both?

There are interesting ways of dealing with the conflicting emotions and sentiments of the season.

Some folks try to ignore the whole thing.

The classic example is Frank Costanza, the genius behind the "Festivus" celebration.

In case you're not a Seinfeld fan, Festivus is the holiday "for the rest of us." Festivus is celebrated as follows:
1) Putting up the Festivus Pole. (It's a plain brushed aluminum tube, maybe 2 inches in diameter. No decorating!)
2) The Airing of Grievances
3) Feats of Strength

No fuss, no muss!

(Much more about Festivus, including greeting cards and an "Airing of Grievances Worksheet," can be found here. And Festivus was actually conceived by Dan O'Keefe, whose son was a writer on "Seinfeld," and incorporated it into that immortal script. More info here.)

Others try to meld "Happy Holidays" with "Merry Christmas."

Several years back, an acquaintance of ours found a little graven image of Santa, kneeling at the manger in which lay the baby Jesus. She was enthralled. She said, "Now, this is what Christmas is really all about!"

Yep - Santa visiting baby Jesus is one of my favorite New Testament stories, too! But I always get confused. I know the shepherds arrived first. But who was next, the Wise Men or Santa? (It's not in the most well-known telling, by Luke. But it must be in there someplace, huh?)

Here's what works for me. I try to detach my "Happy Holidays" from my "Merry Christmas" and enjoy them both separately, and not get offended when somebody else is trying to share theirs with me.

The "Happy Holidays" is the decorations, the tree, the holiday singing, the delicious treats, the party attire, the gift giving and getting. (I decorated by bike for Happy Holidays again this year - click here.) Nothing wrong with ANY of that, as long as you don't get carried away, and have to spend a year or more digging out of debt.

The "Christmas" is that simple but profound story of the Savior of Mankind, who was born into such humble circumstances in Bethlehem of Judea.

(I happened across this Christmas decoration, as I was bicycling a couple days back. It's a snow-covered bench along the Greenbelt, with a message someone had scrawled in the snow. Somehow, I thought it quite fitting for a Christmas celebration, as opposed to Happy Holidays. And nobody will have to put it away and store it for next year.)

(Click on the photo for a larger view.)