Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

I think the debate over Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is an interesting one.

On one side, you have the major corporations that insist that their employees do not wish customers a Merry Christmas and stick instead to Happy Holidays. As someone working in a small low key cafe, and having never been forced by my boss to say anything about the holidays at all to anyone, I have never once been told off by a customer for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. Most people smile and say it in return. Granted, I’ve never served someone visibly of another faith at the cafe. But if I did, I’d like to think they would understand that I wasn’t trying to offend them or force my religion on them. Heck, if a Jewish person wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I’d be thrilled. Now, that might just be because it’s never happened to me before. Who knows, maybe being wished a Merry Christmas a million times gets old after a while. But to me, it feels like wishing a Merry Christmas to someone whodoesn’t celebrate Christmas is basically wishing them a very pleasant 25th of December. (This opinion is not based on experience, so please, correct me if I’m wrong).

The other side is one I basically didn’t know existed until I read this flow chart by Rachel Held Evans, and then made the mistake of diving into the comments. I was really surprised to read that some American Christians genuinely think that being forced to say or hear the words “Happy Holidays” is a form of attack or persecution. I mean, isn’t that a bit extreme, considering the forms of persecution other people are facing around the world? Is a person failing to verbally acknowledge your holiday really a form of attack? When you think about it, doesn’t it sound a bit silly?

But that isn’t my biggest qualm with the “persecuted” Christians. No, I think that if you want to claim that a holiday dedicated to Christ is being attacked, then you need to go past the greetings and acknowledge that Christians lost control of Christmas long before it turned into the Holidays. Christmas has become consumerism central. The marketers are still tugging at our heart strings with their warm and fuzzy commercials, but the holiday has lost the war with capitalism and has turned into a bit of a greed fest. Going to the mall between December 21 and 24th is a exercise in patience as we wade through crowds of people all rushing to purchase last minute gifts for their  loved ones. Putting the Christ back in Christmas has less to do with what your cashier says to you as you check out, and more to do with what she’s checking out for you.

This may seem a bit harsh. After all, Christmas is all about giving, right? But we’ve stopped thinking of giving in the right way. I don’t know where the tradition of giving gifts originated but it’s a nice thought that Christians give gifts just as God gave us his Son. But where God gave his Son while asking for nothing but faith in return (and knowing we would fail at even that), we rarely give out gifts without (secretly) anticipating something back. Imagine putting gifts under the tree for everyone in your family, and waking up Christmas morning to find that no one had bought you anything in return. You would be outraged. We all would be. The expectation at Christmas is both to give and receive gifts. It’s all part of the “spirit of Christmas”. But it’s evident that our giving spirit extends less to those who can’t give in return. Sure the Salvation Army bells guilt us into dropping our money into their pots. But that giving is often limited and reluctant. We would never give as much to people we don’t know who will never repay us as we would to our own flesh and blood, who both love us and present us with gifts in return.

I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t give and receive gifts (I’ve got to be careful with this post or I’ll wake up tomorrow with no presents and a family of people pointing to this post as proof that they shouldn’t get me anything). I get into the giving and receiving as much as the next person. But I would also never become outraged by someone wishing me a Happy Holidays. I can acknowledge that while Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Christ (my family lights candles, reads the Bible, sings carols, and goes to Church five times in two weeks over the holidays), there is also an elements of consumerism and selfishness involved in the holidays, as we exchange gifts and fill the pockets of the retail industry. And there are millions of people who only exchange gifts without the religious aspects. Christmas is originally a Christian holiday, but everyone gets two days off work (or statutory pay) because of this “religious” holiday and I think it’s safe to say that Christians can’t jealously claim that the holidays are only for them any more.

Christmas isn’t under attack in America. It’s already been beaten. The retailers have successfully imbued the Christmas season with a sense of buying urgency, and turned the holiday into a consumerist frenzy. And the poor Christians are right in the thick of it, complaining not about the consumerism, but about the greeting they are being given as they pile their purchases up at the register. Wishing people a Happy Holidays is not the retail industry attacking Christmas, but acknowledging that the holiday has come to mean something it didn’t used to. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s time to separate the celebration of the birth of a Saviour from the celebration of the ability for the wealthy to buy and distribute gifts.

I’m aware that a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this post. And that’s OK. This post is just an exploration on my part of what I find to be a bizarre outrage on the part of American Christians. What do you think? Are you a Christian who wants to go back to Merry Christmas? Are you a non Christian who hates being wished a Merry Christmas? Or do you think the whole debate is nonsense? Let me know.

And Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!