Friday, November 29, 2013

What's Wrong With Merry Christmas?

I've already seen it a dozen times or more on Facebook -- the war over saying Merry Christmas has begun.

It's just another excuse to add stress to the holidays, for those who are into that; another reason for people to be overly sensitive to their own rights and political correctness; another reason for business folks and their employees to try not to offend anyone.

I've seen posts by people complaining about the expression Merry Christmas. Seriously? The post had something to do with never having anyone tell them Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Hanukkah, that it was only the Christians or so-called Christians trying to shove it down their throat.

Then there is the other side of the coin that sometimes makes that appear true. The people who are so dedicated to saying Merry Christmas that if you don't respond in kind they think you're possibly a druid or devil worshipper.

Give me a freaking break!

Look at the calendar. Or don't. Both Hanukkah and Christmas are listed on mine, along with Boxing Day. That means that by and large our society accepts and observes those days. I have been told Happy Hanukkah, but I didn't think someone wanted me to be Jewish. I've never been told Happy Boxing Day, but then I'm not Canadian, so I'm not surprised. Kwanzaa doesn't appear on the calendar and wasn't heard of so I was growing up, so it would be a bit of a surprise to be hear it in a greeting, but I wouldn't be offended. Giving someone a pleasant greeting that includes the mention of either of them, or some other day that is special to you, shouldn't be offensive.

I expect most people say what comes naturally to their lips as a holiday greeting. It's based on their belief system and the way they were raised and it's not intended, either way, as an attack. In fact, I'm sure some people struggle with the PC expression Happy Holidays when they are at work because of people in the first group.

Why do we stress so much over an expression?

Whether you are Christian or not, no one seriously believes Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The early church picked that day to celebrate his birth, possibly to correspond with other celebrations that were already ongoing, and possibly because some who studied the calendar though that was about nine months after he was conceived -- although seriously, this was several hundred years after the fact. Too bad no one thought to make note at the time. If Mary had only kept a baby book -- OK, so I'm being silly, but really, if we want to complain about dates and holidays.

Dec. 25 became first a religious holiday and then a civil and secular holiday as Christmas. That was the name that became assigned to the day, and the fact that it was originally referred to as Christ Mass, which has a decidedly Catholic ring to it, doesn't keep Protestants from observing the same date and name.

People who seem to believe more strongly in Santa Claus than Christ don't appear to have a problem celebrating the day either. Many people of other religions adopt the holiday simply because of its cultural significance. Focusing purely on the commercial aspect of the date, which is entirely of our creation, retailers rake in lots of money, even though lately they often call it a holiday sale.

Many of our greeting cards freely blend the words "Merry Christmas," with images that are purely secular -- trees, gifts, Santa. Our most beloved Christmas tales beyond the one found in the Bible have nothing to do with Christ. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge shouts "Merry Christmas" after his night with the ghosts -- and his epiphany had nothing to do with a babe in a manger or Christianity, although it did in many ways embrace the lessons that baby taught us as a man. "It's a Wonderful Life" may have an unlikely angel, divine intervention and take place at Christmas, but it's by and large a secular tale.

So why, in the decades since either was written or filmed, have we become so ridiculously sensitive? What's in a name that we want to pretend offense from either side of the coin? I seriously do not understand. While I think the largely commercial efforts to avoid the use of Christ in the holiday are absurd, I don't think it is either a war on Christmas or a war on Christianity. It's just a statement about our society where despite our guaranteed free speech, we still seem to search for something to complain about and seemingly assert that our free speech and hearing is more important than anyone else's.

I will be saying Merry Christmas and I don't expect it will offend anyone I know, or strangers I greet. If it does, they can get over it or not. It's the holiday I celebrate and therefore the one I share. But if someone says Happy Holidays or Happy Hanukkah to me in response, or even says it first, I won't take offense. Perhaps that is how they celebrate the season, and it is neither up to me to judge them, nor an attack on what I believe.

Just say it with a smile and mean it.

And today, as we kick off the season, let me wish you Merry Christmas.

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