I’m only dimly aware of the ongoing ‘debate’ and (largely manufactured?) outrage over supposed ‘wars on Christmas,’ which is possibly the least-endangered of holidays celebrated in America, but my friend Michelle Van Loon’s excellent post, “Sexy ‘n Spiritual Tees For Jesus” (doesn’t the title just make you want to click?) reminded me that that’s a thing. She writes:
“purchasing Jesus-y fan swag isn’t too far removed from more familiar consumer expressions of Christian team loyalty: boycotting retailers who say “Season’s Greetings” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or lining up around the block to buy deep-fried chicken sandwiches as a sign of solidarity with a Christian business owner. All of these decisions share an underlying assumption: The world will know us by our consumer purchases.”
American Christians are excellent at wielding their considerable consumer power to protest the atrocity of non-religiously-affiliated companies offering non-specific holiday greetings to customers in an increasingly diverse and non-religious society, but, as I hinted in my article on the Bangladesh factory fires, many are slower to embrace things like concern for justice and fair trade: these things smacking, as they do, of “liberalism.”
I, for one, don’t have a problem with “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings,” even though we mostly only celebrate Christmas (New Year’s Eve is for people who either don’t have kids or for people with kids that actually sleep in once in awhile). After all, there are quite a few Christian holidays in this ‘season,’ even if they’re not all popularly celebrated among Anglo-Americans. There’s St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Lucia Day, and Three Kings Day…and that’s before we even get to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Have you ever been in a foreign country when they’re celebrating a holiday that’s not one you’ve ever even heard of, much less celebrated?
When we lived in Germany, we experienced a few of these. The shops are closed, everyone is celebrating in their homes or even in the streets (the Germans love their fests) and you are sitting there alternately wishing that you could be in on the fun or that the grocery stores would be open and you could get on with life.
If someone said “Happy [Whatever] Day” to me on one of those festagen, especially without inviting me to share their festive celebrations, I would have felt even more excluded.
Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but if you do, trust me: saying “happy holidays” to people, especially if you aren’t sure they celebrate Christmas, isn’t a betrayal of your ‘values.’ It’s a friendly way to let other people in on the joy you feel this season without wishing them something that amounts to “Happy [Whatever] Day” and makes them feel more excluded than they may already feel.
There are better ways to express your values this season. Like buying fair trade. (Here’s a great shop!) Like sharing with those who have nothing. Like offering a kind word (or an invitation to share the holiday feast?) to one who might otherwise be excluded.
After all, hospitality, unlike saying “Merry Christmas!” is one of those things Jesus actually urged us to do.