christmas,  faith,  religion,  religous freedom

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Once again I note Christian media outlets, rightest political outlets, and a few Christian friends lamenting that some stores, groups, companies, etc., say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. They think this profanes the Christian celebration and shows a decline in moral values in the United States. Personally, I don’t think it demonstrates anything other than a generally jolly secular approach to a season filled with a number of different cultural and religious celebrations. Some of the better known traditions, in addition to Christmas, include Hanukkah, al-Hiijah, and Kwanzaa. Some lesser known observances include the Zen Buddhist celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment (Rohatsu) and several different Baha’i feasts and observances. I won’t even get into all the ancient pagan observances that occur at this time of year.

As an Anglican Christian, I follow the liturgical calendar of the Western Christian church. That means that today was the first Sunday of Advent. There are three more Sundays in Advent and then I will celebrate Christmas. There will be 12 days of Christmas and then I will observe Epiphany on January 6. And the church year will continue on to Lent and Easter and Pentecost and right back around to Advent and Christmas. (Read more about the church year at CRI/Voice)

Christmas is a distinctive Christian celebration. You would not know this in the U.S. in the year 2009–not because people greet each other with Happy Holidays while they’reĀ  out shopping, but because Christians themselves have replaced shopping for a time of reflection and penance in anticipation of celebrating their Savior’s birth.

I do not care if some retail store says Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Holidays or Happy Hanukkah. They are, by their very nature, institutions who serve all customers, regardless of religious affiliation. Why would I expect them to cater only to the Christian and ignore all the others? They are incorporated to do business by a government that guarantees the religious liberty of all who live here, not just Christians. So, it puzzles me that Christians care what a secular institution says or does not say in reference to a religious celebration.

Perhaps Christians would better represent their faith by distancing themselves from the commercialization of the season. Christians, en masse, living out the joy and the hope of the season would say more than a million Merry Christmases from some retailer.