I’ve already come across a few folks wishing me a merry Christmas, or a happy holiday — actually, folks, mostly those in local retail establishments or restaurants, have been wishing me happy holidays for a couple of weeks now, and it’s that phrase I’d like to talk about.
This is the time of year when the annual debate begins over whether we should be saying “merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”
On the one side are those who believe in this philosophy of inclusiveness, that if we say “merry Christmas” we’re leaving out those who celebrate Hanukkah, those who subscribe to religions other than Christianity, and those who have no religious affiliation.
I’m all for inclusiveness, probably more so than most people I know, but I have a simple message for you — it’s Christmas folks, whether you like it or not. Over the decades the day, Dec. 25, and the season has been co-opted by the advertising and retail industry to make us believe we have to spend gobs of money on those close to us or we really must not love them.
But at its heart, it’s still the day that marks the birth of Christ. Now I respect most any and all religious beliefs, and have no problem in recognizing the modern American society is one that should be open and welcoming to most all religious and philosophical viewpoints.
Having said that, I do find it a little disturbing that some folks refuse to acknowledge the historical and cultural heritage of the day, yet are still more than happy to partake in the celebration — at least in terms of taking employer-paid days off from work, accepting gifts from others, and in general getting the benefit of Christmas while criticizing the very name of the holiday.
My suggestion would be if you really can’t stand the day, if the name “Christmas” truly offends you, then ignore it. Don’t accept gifts, tell your boss you plan on working that day, refuse Christmas bonuses or other work-related perks associated with the day, skip the parties and dinners, and all is well.
On the other side of this annual debate are those who believe the term “Happy Holidays” is synonymous with the imminent violent overthrow of the United States government, forced labor camps for those who say “Merry Christmas” and the impending end of civilization.
For you folks I have a simple message, too. It’s just a phrase.
The first time I heard the term was more years ago than I wish to count. I was a kid and one of the local television stations where I lived would have periodic messages flash on the screen between shows and commercials — Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Thanksgiving, and Happy Holidays. Later, I think, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa were added.
To my child’s mind, and even to this day I still believe this, the good folks at that station were simply trying to take in all the holidays. Even the most ardent “Christmas” person surely has no problem with being wished a Happy Thanksgiving or a Happy New Year. Around mid-November, with all three of those holidays just around the corner, it certainly made sense to use the single term “Happy Holidays.”
When someone uses that phrase, there’s no need to get into a huff, call for protests, or start a petition asking people never to shop at the store where the offending phrase was uttered. Quite frankly, when someone in a retail setting uses the phrase it’s really more of a business tool than anything, meant to engender good feelings of spending toward the establishment.
Including Thanksgiving, the New Year, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and any other day is simply good business, just as a retailer offering clothes for, say, males and females, or toys for boys and girls, rather than limiting its clientele to one or the other. The subtle message in the phrase is “whatever you’re shopping for, we have it here.”
So, next time someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, just relax, take it for what it was meant — hopefully just a joyous greeting or good-bye — and move on. Focusing your energy on what the phrase left out, or how it might offend you, is, well, making you kind of a Grinch. And no one, of any belief system, wants to be around a Grinch at this time of year.
John Peters is the editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1931.