Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas? Or both?

A little late sharing these thoughts, but hopefully still applicable as we’ll celebrate “Christmastide” in our churches for another week…

Every year it seems that there is the same debate over  what should be said regarding this time of the calendar year.  Broadly, the debate is over which phrase we use in greeting one another.  Do we say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”?

Certain Christian groups become very upset, even enraged, by those who choose to use the more inclusive “happy holidays,” so as to recognize that there are those who celebrate this occasion for reasons other than the birth of Jesus.  Some will insist that it is somehow our duty as Christians to counter the so-called “secularization” of Christmas by wishing any and all, regardless of their religious affiliation, a “Merry Christmas,” because anything else is said to be “taking Christ out of Christmas.”  To make matters more complex, some Christians get upset over abbreviating “Christmas” as “Xmas,” presumably not realizing that the X would be the English equivalent of the Greek letter Chi, which has been used by Christians throughout history as shorthand for Christ.

Personally, I think these Christians are making much ado about nothing.  Why some become so upset over wishing non-Christians “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” I’ll never know.  Why they become so upset over abbreviating Christmas as “Xmas” is even more confounding.  Personally, I wish my Christian friends “Merry Christmas” and my non-Christian friends “happy holidays.”  Why?  Because this seasonal celebration has transcended the meaning it has for Christians.  Many non-Christians in the United States (and across the world) celebrate the holiday season, but it has nothing to do with Jesus’ birth, because they are not Christians.  They see it as a time to celebrate life–to spend time with their family and friends, to enjoy a communal meal together, to give gifts to one another and to help the less fortunate.  Which, by the ways, sounds a lot like what Jesus did while he was here.

Wishing “happy holidays” to those who celebrate this season for reasons other than Jesus’ birth is appropriate.  It’s not “taking Christ out of Christmas” because Christ isn’t the reason they celebrate anyway, and forcing the phrase “Merry Christmas” upon those who celebrate this season for other reasons isn’t charitable, loving or compassionate.  If you’re worried that the Christian Church shouldn’t allow others to “co-opt” this holiday, perhaps we should remember that we co-opted this holiday from the Romans before causing a fuss about others celebrating for different reasons, in different ways and/or with different greetings.

I think the least we can do, as followers of a man who taught us to love one another, is to be charitable, to be graceful, towards those who enjoy this holiday season differently.  Wish them “happy holidays” and reserve your “merry Christmas” greetings for your Christian friends.  Even though many may not care one way or another, it might be nice to err on the side of being thoughtful regarding the religious persuasion of others.  Oh, and if someone chooses to abbreviate Christmas as Xmas, remember it means the same thing (and, even if it bothers or upsets you, perhaps try to act like the man whose birth you celebrate and choose to act lovingly toward them).

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