It’s OK To Say “Happy Holidays” To Me.

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.

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 3.56.49 PM

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.

{repost from a previous season.}

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11 thoughts on “It’s OK To Say “Happy Holidays” To Me.

  1. Thanks for writing about this “atrocity” (great word choice!) When I was a kid, “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” were common. The people who decry their use seem to act as if these phrases are of recent vintage, created solely as a modern statement against Christ. What a load of hooey.

    On being overseas and experiencing a new celebration, I 23 and studying in England when I first learned of Guy Fawkes’ Day. What an eye opener. The bonfires, the firecrackers, the burning-in-effigies. Yikes, what a holiday!

  2. I agree with Tim (surprise!) about “Seasons Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” These were indeed common years ago, especially in diverse areas like New York. So many of my friends and classmates were Jews that it seemed only natural to use a more generic greeting.

    Back then it was simply a matter of common sense and good manners.

    Of course the earliest colonial settlers– those darlings of today’s evangelical exceptionalists– rejected Christmas altogether. Saying “Merry Christmas” in Olde New England would earn you a sound rebuke, if not a fine or worse. Celebrating Christmas was was illegal in those early days.

    So the real war on Christmas in American history– a religious and cultural war backed by the coercive power of the government! –was waged by our saintly founding fathers.

  3. Oh how I love this post! There’s nothing like a bit of travel to open one’s eyes to how deeply embedded these “gospel” holidays are. I remember being asked within the first few weeks of our arrival in the states whether South Africans celebrated “other American holidays, like ST Patricks day?” It was a great cue to take a lot of the holidays with a big pinch of culturally contextualized salt :-)

  4. I totally agree with the absurd tribalism exhibited by the culture warriors. But I have a hard time relating with the way say you would feel, while in a foreign culture, if someone wished you a happy _________. If a Jewish neighbor wishes me a happy Hanukkah, i experience it as a warm invitation to share their joy. When I attend weddings of couples from other faiths the same thing happens. The rituals are foreign to me but to be invited in is a gracious thing and always a lot of fun. Especially in a foreign country, I think I would receive the wish as a sign of hospitality, even if it reminded me that I am a foreigner.

  5. try being a Canadian living in the US during Thanksgiving! It’s one of those times when I really realize the differences in our cultures. We do have Thanksgiving at home, of course, but it really has a different meaning, and seems much less significant than it does here in the US. The day after thanksgiving I was grocery shopping and everyone kept asking my kids if they were having leftovers for dinner – I kept thinking “what is it about me today that makes everyone think that all I serve my kids is leftovers?”. :)

  6. I will never forget the first time I casually mentioned in a Bible study that the X in the oft-maligned (at least in my youth) ‘Xmas’ is really the Greek letter Chi, and hence a perfectly legitimate abbreviation. There was this strange, stunned silence in the room, a silence that I quickly filled by adding, by way of illustration, that in all my college notes I used Chi for Christ and of course Theta for God.

    The question for me was this–

    Were the culture warriors in that room:

    a. Relieved that Jesus wasn’t really being “exed out” of Christmas;
    b. Disappointed that Jesus wasn’t really “exed out” (for zealots need enemies the way the rest of us need oxygen);
    c. Embarrassed that their ignorant assumptions had been thus exposed;
    d. All of the above.

    Much ado about nothing.

    Last night we were caroling in the local nursing home, and afterwards mom noted that we probably should have included a Hanukkah song or two, in that while we were there she noticed a resident not singing along, a woman we believe is in fact a landsman.

    Would adding a cheery rendition of “the Driedl Song” have been some sort of denial of Jesus, or just some simple friendliness and decency?

    Besides all this, it doesn’t take a graduate degree in linguistics to see that “holiday” comes from “holy day,” so what is the big fuss about?

    I for one couldn’t care less if store personnel say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, or just plain “hello.” What I DO care about is seeing people making a living wage selling products that aren’t produced by exploited people in unsafe conditions.

    But somehow I doubt the cultural warriors are ever going threaten boycotts over that sort of thing.

  7. Saw this post in Bronwyn Lea’s “pick of the clicks” (// and I just love it! Totally agree with you. Why should the only vote we, the church, care about casting be the one with our dollars? Let’s get out there and share real season greetings–whatever kind people are open to accepting.
    From one fair-trade, eco-friendly Christian — thumbs up :)

    Ps. So glad also to have found another Heifer Intl supporter, too! WE LOVE HEIFER in our house. I plug for them every chance I get.

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