It’s not hard to find controversy in this day and age, and the onset of the Christmas season is no exception. The battle has waged for a few years now, over the change in how we greet one another during this season. Season’s Greetings has been an accepted line over the years, although the obvious reference was that it meant the Christmas season. Now, in the age of political correctness and inclusiveness, the very word Christmas has become the antithesis, for some reason, to a universal greeting. It would even appear that the center point of the phrase Merry Christmas, is now being rejected for something less specific.
While it is understood that there are other celebrations taking place during this winter month of December, Hanukkah and Kwanza most notably, the prevailing holiday to which almost all people are referring when they say Happy Holidays is, indeed, Christmas. If a person uses the HH greeting, and is then asked which holiday he or she is celebrating, the answer will most likely be Christmas. Whether the Christ child or the red suited Santa, it’s still going to be, for most people, Christmas that is on their schedule of holiday observances. People buy Christmas trees, Christmas presents, and eat Christmas cookies. We sing Christmas carols while strolling past Christmas decorations. Are we then left with nothing more expressive of the experience than to say “Happy Holidays”?
So, why the fuss, you may ask. Well, for my part, in spite of knowing that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t actually born on December 25th, (sorry if this is news to anyone), and that the original festival to which this date was dedicated was a pagan event that just begged intervention from the church fathers, Christmas is still the observance of the birth of the Christ; the anointed one sent by God as a repairer of the breach between deity and humankind. To make it something less is not so much an offense as it is a misuse of the overwrought dogmas of the modern correctness we are having to endure. The implication of changing this greeting is that, in some measure, my statement of faith is offensive to someone else, requiring that I make the sacrifice in sustaining the cultural and social significance of the event it symbolizes.
The fact that the nature of Christmas is spiritual and not material has, by most accounts, been lost on society at large. While there are pronouncements of peace on earth, as people borrow from the original message of the birth of Jesus, the central character is often passed by and relegated to a matter of little significance. It seems tragic, to me, that children hear the phrase “peace on earth, goodwill towards men”, and might think Santa Claus said it first. And, while we might be indebted for a celebration on December 25th, courtesy of the winter solstice… Dies Natalis Solis Invicti…the tradition of centuries concerning the birth of Christ lends the date its real significance in the modern age. The irony of marking the date on a calendar based on this event, and replacing the word Christmas with the benign and unsatisfactory holiday is something that seems to be lost on those who would perpetrate this meaningless new phrase: happy holidays.
It is not necessary to share the faith upon which Christmas is built, to understand the crassness of the new thought. Perhaps this is what George Orwell looked to when he coined the phrase New Speak. It is something that is without meaning, intended only to pad the speaker’s oration with irrelevant and innocuous words that lend nothing to the content.
Happy Holidays, while perhaps well intentioned, is by its very nature, meaningless compared to the depth of expression and hope within the Christmas tidings. Happy Holidays won’t live in your hearts for the entire year, but will only fade with the last bit of paper and ribbon as it heads for the trash heap. The gifts won’t change your life, most probably, nor will the memory be enough to carry you through another year.
Christmas, for those who believe and even those who are skeptics, is the power of God to change human lives. It conveys the hope that there really can be peace on earth, and that mankind can learn to love and prosper under the guiding and loving watch of a gracious and awesome supreme being. Christmas is, by its very nature, eternal, remaining in the soul and influencing the entire world. A holiday ends when the day is done. Christmas is the centerpiece toward which an entire year propels itself. This celebration crowns all others in its nobility and grace, its beauty and charisma. Even Santa Claus would be absent were it not for the inspiration of a real saint named Nicholas who gave out gifts and was attributed as having performed miracles.
Christmas isn’t just part of a series of holidays, any more than Hanukkah is only Jewish folklore, to be entertained but not revered. These are measurements of the spiritual journeys of millions of people, not to be confused with the department store version that has been sold as something real. To shelve the individual importance of any of these observances in favor of a generic phrase that satisfies those to whom the days matter the least is ludicrous. Worse than that, it means we are turning away from what is precious, to something that, by its very nature, has no meaning. Even if the point of your celebration is the winter solstice, call it by name. Let us at least be clear.
Whatever you celebrate, I hope you will explore the riches within the spiritual context of the faith-based expressions that mark this season. Let us not fall prey to giving credence to those things that cause our experiences to appear less than they really are. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas do not convey lack of tolerance; they express a history and faith in something bigger than what we can see in ourselves. And that is where the magic, the wonder and awe comes from during this season.
Merry Christmas to all, for all of your life!