Saturday, December 10, 2005

Merry Holidays, Bah Humbug

Even though the issue is over-blown and over-discussed, I have to weigh in on the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Holiday tree debate.

It is undeniable that the United States is historically a Christian dominated country. Christianity is the religion of the majority of US citizens. This has given Christians a level of privilege that has allowed them to legalize some of their traditions. Heterosexual marriage is one, the Christmas federal holiday is another. I suspect most Christians do not see their religion as privileged, so any action that seems to question these legalized beliefs is seen as an attack on Christianity. Christians should be cautious about invoking religion or the Bible when defending the ban on homosexual marriages or perceived acts against Christmas. They bring into question the constitutionality of these laws.

It is obviously silly to call a Christmas tree a holiday tree, but it is equally silly to be offended by the term. What is Christian about a Christmas tree except the name? A Christmas tree is a symbol of Christmas, but so is Santa Claus. Fireworks are the symbol of the Fourth of July so should be call local governments that ban fireworks unpatriotic?

Just like the heterosexual/homosexual marriage controversy, Christians are confusing the religious and the secular. For most people, Christmas trees and Santa Claus are secular traditions that are observed on the same day as Christians celebrate the birth of Christ.

Should Christians be offended when a store clerk wishes them "Happy Holidays"? Of course not. What is the proper etiquette? It is obviously appropriate for a Christian to greet a fellow Christian with "Merry Christmas". It is also seems appropriate for a Christian to greet a stranger with "Merry Christmas". They are expressing their beliefs and including the stranger in the joy of their holiday. How should a stranger greet a person they know to be Jewish? "Merry Chistmas" would be appropriate for the same reasons it would an appropriate salutation from a Christian to a stranger. "Happy Hanukkah" may be more appropriate since you are acknowledging this person's religion, although some people might feel uncomfortable invoking the blessings of a religion they are not a member of.

When a store clerk offers a holiday greeting are they expressing their beliefs or the store's? A store probably does not want its employees expressing their personal religious beliefs. If some Christians are sensitive to "Happy Holidays", how would they react in a store where the clerks are all wishing customers "Happy Hanukkah"? Since a public corporation has no religion, if the clerk is representing the store and does not know the religious beliefs of the customer, "Happy Holidays" seems appropriate. The clerk is acknowledging that this is a special time of the year in the midst of a secular transaction.

For Christians who are truly offended by "Happy Holidays" and "Holiday tree" I suggest that you treat Christmas as a strictly religious holiday. Do not put up a Christmas tree (or a holiday tree). Do not buy presents. Do not confuse your children with the myth of Santa Claus and lobby your elected representatives to remove Christmas from the list of federal holidays. Return Christmas to a purely religious holiday. But don't be suprised when the holiday greeting you get is "Bah, Humbug".

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