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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Beyond the Rumors of Poisoned and Cursed Halloween Candy…

Screen shot 2013-10-25 at 11.38.51 AMIn 1989, Jack T. Chick published a comic strip gospel tract that claimed to reveal the truth behind Halloween: the panels reveal a group of Satan-worshipers gathering in the weeks before Halloween to “provide our father [the devil] with a number of sacrifices.” They plan to murder some children (“in order to obtain more blood for our master”) by tainting the candy with “razor blades, crushed glass, pins, etc.” while bringing other children under Satan’s “guidance and care” by performing incantations over the candy that, when consumed, will cause children who were once “so sweet” to become “totally rebellious”–refusing to go to Sunday school “without a big fight.”

This tract undoubtedly represented an extreme view even among conservative Christians, but the idea of Halloween as a satanic holiday rife with the potential to harm children seems to have held considerable traction in many families, including the one in which I grew up and even after the isolated and rare instances of candy-tampering were shown to be largely mythical. (Though Snopes.com confirms that there were a few–very few–instances where children were pricked by sharp objects that had been inserted into Halloween candy.) Ministries such as John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” pointed out the Celtic pagan roots of the holiday and churches sought alternatives: hosting “harvest parties” where kids could dress up (but not as witches), bob for apples, and overload on sugar. Jerry Falwell went a step further and created the “scaremare”: a sort of haunted house that “replaced the demon-filled message of Halloween with the biblical message ‘man dies, Christ saves,’” in effect scaring people into belief.

These days, even conservative Christians seem to be a little more relaxed on the question of Halloween. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family admits that he and his wife “have chosen to allow our sons to engage in the innocent and harmless side of Halloween” while condemning the excessively ghoulish displays Halloween often encourages, acknowledging that Christians differ on the subject and insisting that he “respect[s] the strongly held perspectives in both camps.” At TheResurgence.com, which is closely associated with Mark Driscoll, Winfield Bevins suggests that a “Happy Christian Halloween” is possible and that it’s a bad idea for Christians to be “weird” about Halloween and refuse to participate. Over at John Piper’s website, DesiringGod.org, David Mathis makes similar suggestions, encouraging Christians to use Halloween as a chance to connect with neighbors for the sake of the gospel.

Concerns over the pagan roots of the holiday and the fear of tainted candy may have taken a backseat for most Christians, but it’s possible that other things should concern us about Halloween..

{Continue Reading at iBelieve…}

How Sweet It Is! Feeling Better about Hershey.

You kind of have to hand it to Americans. We can turn anything into a reason for consumption. The journey from a day honoring early Christian martyrs to the World’s Largest Inflatable Heart is by no means direct.

But whatever. Chocolate is yummy.

Anyway, I wanted to take this Valentine’s Day to remind you of the problem of child slavery on cocoa plantations. It’s real. It’s bad. But encouraging signs are appearing…

Hershey’s recently released an announcement that by the end of 2012, 100% of the cocoa for their Bliss line of chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance Certified–meaning that the production of this cocoa will meet third-party standards for environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Additionally, Hershey’s has promised to invest $10 million in West Africa for various educational and development initiatives intended to improve the lives of cocoa workers. (Beings that they netted $510 million in 2010, that’s not a lot, but okay.)

There’s still farther to go–Bliss and Dagoba represent a mere fraction of Hershey’s brands, which include York, Mounds, Almond Joy, LifeSavers, BreathSavers, Reese’s, Heath, Jolly Ranchers, Mauna Loa, Scharffen Berger, Twizzlers, and many more. They could do more. We can do more.

It’s movements like Raise the Bar, Hersheys! that raised awareness enough to put pressure for these small changes. Now, an eighth-grader from Philadelphia, Jasper Perry-Anderson, has created a Change.org petition to petition the trustees of the Milton Hershey School to put pressure on Hershey to take more pointed measures at ending child labor and human trafficking in the plantations from which they source ingredients.

Why not sign the petition? It’s kind of the least we can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!