It seems like everywhere you turn there is a new (sort of) controversy in the popular culture spectrum: the increasingly ubiquitous substitution for a hearty Merry Christmas with the vague banality of Happy Holidays. Every media venue seems to have devoted air time or print space to what some social conservatives are calling the War on Christmas. John Gibson has even written a book of that title. It is true that with an increasing American religious pluralism on one hand, and a fanatical secular devotion to an ideal of blandly inoffensive "diversity" sapping the color and vitality from the American palette on the other, references to Christmas in popular culture during this "most wonderful time of the year" are becoming more and more rare.
Many retailers have encouraged their employees to wish customers a "Happy Holiday Season" instead of "Merry Christmas" for years, and some are now requiring the replacement phrase. When I was in retail, I automatically said "Happy Holidays," and it never struck me as odd. And, I must admit, that I have never really cared whether or not I was wished a happy Generic Holiday, Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa -- whatever, just so long as people are nice and not surly (and how easy is that to find in this crazy retail season?). So, my feathers have remained rather smooth and my seasonal spirit implacable. I tend to wish all passers-by and casual encounters a "Merry Christmas" now, and trust that they'll take it in the kindly intentioned spirit in which it was offered.
But now -- ah, the straws were laid in an immediate pile and the camel's back was broken at once! I simply cannot believe the flyer passed out at my church when I participated in the annual Christmas "Adopt an Officer" campaign. Every year, our church partners with the police station across the street, which provides us with a list of all their officers. Members of the church are then encouraged to "adopt" an officer by choosing a name on the list, purchasing a Christmas card, personalizing it with our appreciation for their service to our community, and then enclosing a $10 donation to purchase a Starbucks gift card for the officer. It has always been a really nice way to say "thank you" at the end of the year to a group of people too often under-appreciated. BUT, this year, the wording on the flyer of instructions stressed that we were to buy a HOLIDAY card, and the sample personalization that was given instructed the wishing of a "happy Holiday season." Aaargh! It's hit the church! I do not know if this mandate came from the police station or from the church staff, but either way it strikes me as incredibly silly and disingenuous. We are a CHURCH, for crying out loud! We celebrate Christmas (and some Hanukkah too), because it is the time of year we set aside to remember and honor the Incarnation. We're not a bunch of secularists who just like to decorate trees and romanticize about Santa Claus (though some of us do that too, in addition). We believe this time of year is holy because it is when we celebrate the Christ child -- the obedience of Mary and Joseph, the wonder of the shepherds, the rip-roaring joy of the heavens.
Here's what I did: I bought a Christmas card, as I've always done before. I wrote a personalized greeting wishing the officer a "Merry Christmas." I enclosed my $10 donation. I put the card in the box at church. If they kick this back to me because I didn't follow the rules, well then so be it. If a person will not accept a gift because the giver wishes a "Merry Christmas," then that is their loss. I give this time of year for the same reason I give all year long -- because so much has been given to me by my Creator that I overflow with gratitude. Any time I give to any cause, it is always with a prayer for the recipient to be blessed by it -- always with some sort of acknowledgement that this gift comes not from me but from the Giver of all good things. I just cannot believe that someone would not take a Christmas wish in the spirit of goodwill in which it was offered. If I were offered a gift by a Muslim and he wished me a Happy Ramadan, well, I would simply assume that that person was expressing a sincere wish to honor God the best way I've ever found -- by showing love to his fellow man. If a Wiccan gave me a present in the name of the goddess for winter solstice, well, that would not offend me in the least. "To each his own won't lead you home,"* but it is a good policy for taking people at face value. Sure, I think that the above religions are incorrect, but I can respect that their adherents are sincere enough, and most people mean well anyway. Even (and this will startle secularists the most) CHRISTIANS.
So, Merry Christmas to all!
*An Amigo-esque asterisk: That's a quote from a Jennifer Knapp song.