It occurs to me - again - that this season has several simultaneous celebrations occurring at the same time. It has been that way for a very long time.
Personally, I am delighted that I celebrate Christmas - the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos become man. But others celebrate a "Happy Holiday" due to the long-established feast-celebration that has always existed at this time of year - some modern Pagans just flat-out celebrate the Winter Solstice. My Jewish friends celebrate Hanukkah, a wonderful remembrance of a miracle not reported in the Tanak (Bible) that ought to be of great encouragement both to Christians and Jews alike. I'm not as big a fan of Kwanzaa, as it is recent and seems potentially divisive - but I admit I don't understand and want to extend charity.
My only purpose here is not really to state anything original - I'm not much of an original thinker - but to affirm a few things which others have more eloquently stated and which I agree:
- People who get offended based on a greeting which does not match their holiday are not being charitable. I am personally saddened that this seems to be very prevalent in the American "Christian" ethos. For a faith that rightly insists that God is love and that Christians should be loving - especially to those with whom we disagree - the lack of charity in such cases is tragically ironic. Offense, I am learning, usually tells me more about the one offended than the one who is charged with offending.
- It seems to me that people like to work for a living. Once they have a job, they like to keep that job. In years past, some of my acquaintances would become indignant that check-out clerk would farewell with a generic, "Happy Holidays" rather than a, "Merry Christmas." Most retail companies specifically instruct their sales clerks on how to greet customers. If you're upset with an employee over how they greet you during this time of year, you're upset at the wrong person.
- The lack of a "Merry Christmas" in the store does not signal the end of civilization as we know it. Here is the fact: the world is going to Hell in a hand basket, and has been for some time. Nothing has changed about that in a hundred years and certainly that trajectory has not changed in the 20 years since "Happy Holidays" replaced "Merry Christmas."
- Christianity is losing it's privileged position. Of course, as one who is part of the cultural majority (a protestant Christian in the U.S.A.), any potential change to that assumed hegemony feels threatening. But my theological and historical understanding takes a longer view: it is completely consistent that an increasingly more secular and diverse culture would attempt to dislodge Christianity from its privileged place in American culture. None of this should be surprising. On the other hand, Christianity has historically become corrupted when it becomes too firmly entrenched with the state. Christians, those who are serious about their faith, need to remember that Christianity is about following Jesus, not about supporting Christendom.
- Being persecuted has nothing to do with how you are greeted by a sales clerk. When the police come into your house, kill your family in front of you, loot your possessions, and put you in jail with an extra dose of torture ... THAT is persecution. Dial down the rhetoric.
- People are trying to be nice - receive the love. There has been a tradition of a special greeting for this time of year for a very, very long time. When I hear a nice greeting, I assume the person is trying to be nice - not that they are ready to sell my name to the secret police.
- We Christians forget how much the person of Jesus has truly influenced our world. Some perspective: in much of the Mediterranean area during the time of Jesus, the popular greeting was a hearty, "Io, Saturnalia!" Nobody does that any more. Two thousand years later, lots of people (in the English-speaking world) say, "Merry Christmas" (US), "Happy Christmas" (UK), or "Happy Holidays." In the first two, note that the word Christ is prominent. In the last, note that the word is, "holiday" or "holy day." These are Christian influences - Jesus wins!
- A nice greeting for a holiday I don't celebrate is still a nice greeting. This gets back to my introductory comments. If my Jewish friend wishes me a "Happy Hannukah," I'm really tickled by that. He's doing that because he likes me and wants to bless me in the best way he knows how. I feel his affection for me and he feels my affection for him when I respond with a, "And a Merry Christmas to you!" Yes, his faith commitment is different from mine - but I'm certainly not going to persuade him to reconsider if I get offended by his well-intended greeting. If that is true with someone I know, then it is even more so for someone I just met.
- Christian, celebrate Christmas and realize that many other people are celebrating another holiday altogether - even if they mistakenly call that, "Christmas." This is worth a separate blog in itself, but I'll try to summarize my thoughts here. When people put up lights and decorations, buy gifts for each other, gather the family, feast, and party - that is not (strictly and narrowly) about Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of Jesus, the theology of God becoming man, and the love of God that gives and sacrifices for humanity. All the other stuff is actually not part of a theological Christmas. We fit that stuff in, shoehorning it, so we can have the fun 'in the name of Jesus.' This is why Christians are frequently confused about Christmas and have to remind ourselves that "Jesus is the reason for the season." And that is why our non-Christian friends get confused about what Christmas is. Friends, people are confused about Christmas because WE, as Christians, are confused about Christmas.