(As is my custom this time of year, I am taking some time off from writing new posts and instead reposting some old favorites (often edited and updated) for the benefit of those who missed them the first time around or have forgotten them. The POST SCRIPTS will generally be new. New posts will start again on Monday, January 5, 2009. Today’s post originally appeared in December 2005.)
In a comment to a previous post on Thanksgiving and Christmas, commenter John made an interesting observation. He said that, given his reading of my political and religious leanings from my blog, he was surprised that I had used the term “Christmas shopping season” instead of the more generic “holiday shopping season”, since I am obviously not a religious person.
I must admit that I was taken by surprise by his comment. I had written “Christmas” season almost without thinking because I see it as such. But perhaps I should not have been surprised because I am also aware of how touchy the issue of Christmas has become.
For example, former Fox News host John Gibson has actually written a book called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. And Bill O’Reilly, who can always be depended on to waste his outrage on the trivial, has declared that he is going to “save” Christmas by bringing back the greeting “Merry Christmas” and fighting those stores that have promotions saying “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” A guest on his show suggested that these more generic greetings do not offend Christians, to which O’Reilly replied “Yes, it does. It absolutely does. And I know that for a fact. But the smart way to do it is “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Season’s Greetings, Happy Kwanzaa.”
Meanwhile, the late Jerry Falwell, as always locked in a fierce competition with Pat Robertson for the Religious Doofus of the Year award, said that he too was fighting to save that holy holiday and that he’ would sue and boycott groups that he saw as muzzling Christmas. Finishing a strong third for that same award:
American Family Association President Tim Wildmon … wants to see “Merry Christmas” signs displayed prominently “if they expect Christians to come in and buy products during this so-called season.”
And he isn’t worried if they offend people who aren’t Christian.
“They can walk right by the sign,” Wildmon said. “It’s a federal holiday. If someone is upset by that, well, they should know that they are living in a predominantly Christian nation.”
So John was quite justified in being puzzled as to why, in this climate, I was so casually tossing the word Christmas around when everyone seems to be so touchy about it.
It is truly pathetic to see grown people like Gibson and O’Reilly and Falwell and Wildmon getting into a lather about something so trivial as to what is the proper thing to say at Christmas.
I just can’t take this matter seriously. I have never been offended by other people’s religious beliefs. Perhaps it was because I grew up in a multi-religious society, had friends of other faiths, and celebrated their religious holidays as well as my own. It does not offend me in the least when people wish me greetings that are specific to their own religious traditions or in some neutral terms.
When someone wishes me “Season’s Greetings,” I take that as a thoughtful gesture of friendship and caring and I am touched by the sentiment. The same goes if they wish me “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” or “Happy Solstice” or “Happy Festivus” or “Happy Newton Day” (the great physicist Isaac Newton was born on December 25) or any other greeting from any other religion on any occasion. I return the greeting in kind, even if I am not a believer in that faith, because all that such an exchange signifies is that two people wish each other well. If someone says to me “Merry Christmas” and I reply “Same to you,” this is not an affirmation of Christian faith any more than “Season’s Greetings” is an act of hostility to religion. To take such greetings as a challenge to one’s beliefs and start a fight over it is to demonstrate churlishness to a ridiculous degree. O’Reilly and his partners in this stupid battle need to grow up, even if it is of dubious value in terms of ratings and garnering publicity.
I simply do not care how other people view Christmas or how they express their views and it amazes me that some people are using it as yet another means of waging a cultural war. What is the sense in being offended by someone who is wishing you well? Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow reports on the kind of petty and absurd incidents that this ridiculous hyping of the ‘war on Christmas’ spawns.
I was a grocery store, waiting in line to check out. The man in front of me approached the cashier with a cart full of groceries. The cashier said “Happy Holidays!” Well, it goes without saying that the man was furious at this. How dare she not say “Merry Christmas”. He literally stormed out of the store in anger, leaving his groceries behind for the employees to put away. As he was leaving, he said “I’ll never shop here again!”
No doubt the man saw himself as a ‘true’ Christian. Whatever our views on this topic, can we at least all agree to not take our annoyance out on employees such as shop clerks and cashiers and waiters? These people are usually underpaid and overworked (especially during this time of year), usually have no say about company policy on how to greet people, and are routinely treated with lack of consideration, if not discourtesy and outright rudeness. People should never use their power as customers to vent their spleen on such employees, who have no option but to bite their tongues for fear of losing their jobs.
If some company puts advertisements in the paper and tells its employees to greet customers by saying “Season’s Greetings”, why should it offend me? The same thing if they order their employees to say “Merry Christmas” instead. Such mandated greetings are just marketing tools and are meaningless in terms of content and intent, whatever the words used.
If Bill O’Reilly gets all warm and tingly when a store employee is forced to say “Merry Christmas” to him and gets angry when that same employee is forced to say “Season’s Greetings”, then he is in need of serious therapy because he clearly cannot distinguish the real from the counterfeit. I hate to be the one who breaks the news but he should realize that the employee probably does not care for him personally, whatever the greeting.
I have always liked Christmas as a holiday, especially its focus on children. I am glad that even people who do not share its religious orientation still share in the peace and goodwill message. I do not appreciate the fact that it has become largely a merchandizing tool.
The question becomes different when we talk about the government taking an official stand on religion because this raises tricky political and constitutional issues. There it seems to me to be appropriate to be scrupulously religiously neutral because I am a believer that a secular public sphere is the one most likely to lead to peace and harmony between diverse groups. Governments are supposed to be representatives of everyone and to single out one particular religion or ethnicity for preferential or adverse treatment is to invite discord.
But when it comes to private exchanges between people, we should all relax and let people express their good feelings for one another in whatever way they choose and are most comfortable with and not try to make it into a battle for religious supremacy.
You can always tell when people genuinely mean well and when they are pushing an agenda, whatever the actual words used. We should learn to accept the former gracefully and ignore the latter. It is like the ubiquitous “Have a nice day”. You can always tell, by the eyes, the tone of voice, and the smile (or lack of it) if the person is genuinely being friendly or simply saying it because it is required.
POST SCRIPT: Communion Whine
It looks like this War on Christmas lunacy has spread to England. Marcus Brigstocke delivers the appropriate smackdown.