I have heard a lot of Christmas talk the last few days. Oh, not for the reasons that you might think. It’s not because sleigh bells are ringing, or the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. It’s not even because the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special celebrated it’s 40th anniversary this year. The reason I’m hearing so much about Christmas is because many folks are upset that some companies, corporation, and constituencies are no longer calling Christmas “Christmas.”
The trend–and you might be seeing this in your hometown–is for institutions to move away from saying “Merry Christmas” to the more general and–if I dare say–politically correct, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Apparently this is upsetting to many people. They think Christmas should simply be Christmas, not something else.
As a Christian minister, I think the “Happy Holidays/Season’s Greeting” people have a point. But so do the “Merry Christmas” folks.
This year the Macy’s/Rich’s/etc…Company is not allowing any signs in their stores wishing their patrons “Merry Christmas.” But I wonder what will happen on December 26? I bet they’ll have an “after Christmas” sale. The companies motives here are financially driven. They want the Hanukkah, Kwanza, secular crowd to shop before Christmas with inclusivity, yet they will want those post-Christmas Christian dollars as well. The policy seems to fit the finances. But what else would you expect from a business except to try and make money? That’s why they exist.
But how far will the anti-Christmas movement go? Christmas is a national holiday. Hanukkah and Kwanza are not. Will we soon be seeing schools only giving students a few days for Christmas rather than 10 days? I’m guessing the teachers unions will have something to say about that. Or will students be dismissed from school at the outset of Hanukkah and come back after Christmas? What about Ramadan? Perhaps students will be dismissed from school according to the faith if the individual? That will surely make for cohesive, coherent learning. But is that the concern of some Christians?
So, what are Christians so upset about? Why does it matter if you get a “Merry Christmas” with your “HO-HO-HO”? The best I can come up with is that they feel that the death of “Christmas” is yet another repositioning of Christian values and beliefs to the outside of the American mainstream.
It might surprise you to hear me say this, but I don’t think the practice of Christianity should necessarily be in the mainstream. Sure, people should practice their faith and work to further their beliefs, but everyone is not a Christian. They have never been and that day is not soon coming. And just because some shopping store constructs a Christmas tree and sells Nativity sets doesn’t mean the owners and employees of that store are welcoming the birth and reign of Christ into their lives. And in some way that is good.
Kierkegaard was right when he said, “In a country where everyone is a Christian, no one is a Christian.” For years I participated in Christmas celebrations without the first thoughts about Christ. No once did I think about the power, hope, and sacrifice seen through the advent. It was for me–as it is to so many others–just another holiday.
The gift of the anti-Christmas movement is that it encourages Christians–and quite naturally, only Christians–to celebrate the holiday as a religious holiday. We cannot assume that our neighbors are celebrating Christmas, but we might be able to accentuate the ways we celebrate Christmas. The holiday can now be purely seen as the incarnation of Christ and God’s plan to redeem His people. The plan is for everyone, but celebrated by those who have accepted it. The acceptance of God’s plan makes us different. It makes Christmas special.
My agnostic neighbor, though his house is covered with snowmen and lights, does not experience Christmas the same way I do. It has a different, deeper meaning for me. Christmas at my house is a time to be merry, indeed. To him it’s the gift-exchanging holiday. Christians have always been called to be “set-apart” and we can’t rightly do that and be the mainstream at the same time.
It matters less to me that a cashier at the store says, “Merry Christmas” than it does that Christians understand “Merry Christmas.” If people choose the celebrate Christmas in a secular way, what difference does it make if they celebrate Christmas or Kwanza? The death of Christmas may be the very thing Christians need for the holiday to live again.
It is in that spirit that I say to faithful followers of Christ, “Merry Christmas.” And to those still searching for enough relics of divine goodness to accept Christ, “Happy Holidays.”