First of all, Merry Christmas to my Christian readers. And happy holidays to everyone else.
Now, I know I’ve made fun of organizations that use “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas (well, just this Catholic university). I know it’s the time for getting into high dudgeon about ignoring the significance of the Christian holiday at a time when Christianity is under siege in the country and the world. However, before one gets all a-bluster about not saying or not being excited about receiving a “Merry Christmas,” consider why one says that at all.
If it’s just a greeting-of-the-day sort of thing, nothing more than a general “Good day,” then why bother? Just say, “Good morning.”
Of course, it’s not just a timely greeting of the day. It carries additional significance. For many, it’s a reminder of the birth of Christ, the redemption of man, and the fulfillment of a promise from Yahweh. That is what the day means to Christians, and it has a very particular significance. It also celebrates a festival of sorts, some family time, good will, and the more secular emanations of the event. Peace on earth, goodwill to men and so on.
So: consider what you mean when you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
If you say “Merry Christmas,” to another Christian, of course it’s a greeting and a reminder of shared values and whatnot. If you say “Merry Christmas” to someone who is not a Christian, it’s a lot like saying, “Happy Independence Day” to a Canadian or having a Canadian say “Happy Victoria Day” to you. You might as well say “Merry Saturday.” Merry Christmas lacks the special significance textually to the non-Christian recipient. If you say it to share the general goodwill of the season, as you probably do, there’s nothing wrong with it. However, “Happy Holidays” captures this spirit, too, and organizations and commercial enterprises that deal with more than just Christians might not so much want to throw the Christian holiday to the lions as to share the goodwill emanating from the holiday to all.
Of course, if your purpose in saying “Merry Christmas” is to greet fellow Christians only and to proselytize to the non-believers at the same time, to throw in their face their heathen status, and to serve as the single calling to God after which the non-believers can burn in Hell for believing differently, I can see why it’s very important that everything in Christendom bear those words in that order.
Of course, it’s most likely not the intention. Instead, most who say “Merry Christmas” are the former, sharing general goodwill and fellowship. So what’s the difference, then, between saying, “Happy holidays” versus “Merry Christmas”?
Too many Christians think that their religion is under assault from secularists who want to take the lower case t out of Christmas because it looks like a cross and turn the holiday into Chrismas. Or something. They’re afraid that inclusiveness in cheer and well-wishing is going to strip their meaning from the holiday.
Crikey, the generic tidings of a marketing team or a right-thinking fellow can’t diminish the birth of Christ and your celebration of it that much, can they? I should hope not. Besides, the person who says it to you probably means pretty much the same thing as you do except he or she is expressing it as he or she can.
On the flip side, of course, anyone who gets wished a Merry Christmas who gets insulted because he, she, or it is not a Christian should take the tiding in the spirit in which it was probably offered and spare the self-righteous indignation at the ignorance of the Christer who offers it. For Pete’s sake, hail the all powerful Pete, All-Doing and All-Seeing immortal Pete, it’s not a direct attack on the fact that you’re different from the speaker. Punch the END button before your attorney answers and respond “Merry Christmas” or say “Happy Holidays” instead, or “May Pete’s Sweat of Opulence fall upon you” and let it go.