“Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”
This immortal line from the classic Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street sums up my observations of the past few weeks. As the Holiday season goes into full tilt, we are bombarded with the familiar tropes. One, the need to buy gifts for loved ones either the immediate family or close friends, two, the hustle and bustle of trying to get the gifts, and three the trimmings, i.e. the tree, decorations, dinner etc; At the same time there is the classic fight within Christmas. Never have I seen a holiday that creates an inner turmoil that only star-crossed lovers, Woody Allen movies, and Hamlet get stuck with. It all started when the early Christians, who wanted to expand their flock placed Jesus’s birth near the winter solstice, an important holiday in Roman Empire. So important you sang song to your neighbors in the nude. In the short term, it was good idea Romans didn’t have to completely give up their holidays and made the conversion less shocking. However, the merriment that came when they merged the holiday’s together was something few would see coming 2,000 years later.
It’s this Vs….
This Images courtesy of flourishonline.com and puzzles-games.eu
In other words it’s always been a divide between Jesus’s birth and the gift giving merriment that came with it. It’s no wonder Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street feels squeezed. This also has led in the recent fight over two terms for the current season;
Whether to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’
If one were to say ‘Merry Christmas’ it acknowledges one holiday but we all know they are more than just one and ‘Happy Holiday’s’ tries to be the more inclusive phrase to say when multiple holidays share the week or month.
Yet the debate over whether or not we should use one or the other is at times both mystifying and silly.
The debate works out like this; those in favor of ‘Happy Holiday’s’ (HH), say that it benefits those who don’t normally celebrate or observe Christmas and prevents the crowding out effect that Christmas often does to other holidays that are celebrated in the vicinity of Christmas such as Hanukah and Kwanza. It also reduces the risk of the assumption that everyone celebrates the same holiday.
On the other end of the spectrum those who favor ‘Merry Christmas’ (MC), say that one holiday does not equate the other and putting them all together makes them less meaningful. They also claim that choosing HH prohibits their freedom of speech and the expression of their faith. MC’s also argue that many other ethnic minority groups don’t grouse about saying HH and really don’t care one way or the other on the matter.
So to sum up the fight is between evangelical Christians against Atheists and those who prefer to be politically correct.
To be fair, evangelicals are trying to at least bring back the Christ in Christmas, who argue that the holiday has become too secular. At the same time however, those who advocate for HH say we do have to acknowledge that our world is no longer the one of Norman Rockwell like bliss and it would be foolish to think that Christmas is some sort of purity contest.
A few years back, the debate took a strange turn when a church in Dallas, which will remain anonymous, created a ‘Grinch Alert’ for businesses that did not use the word Christ, Santa or followed what they considered ‘traditional’ Christmas.
Those businesses who did not comply with these requirements were on their so-called naughty list and the church’s parishioners could avoid these place during the holiday season.
The businesses they went after included a local bank for not having a Christmas tree, a major airline for saying holiday’s too much and if that wasn’t enough, a cashier doomed an entire department store because him or her said ‘you too’ instead of saying MC to the customer back. Talk about getting scrooged
Others in the Dallas religious community immediately disagreed with the method of how the church attacked these businesses saying it made everyone look bad and proved once again that the U.S. Constitution is a two way street. If you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, you definitely can’t tell half a city that they have to adhere to a standard for Christmas because you think you first amendment rights are being threatened. (Which I highly doubt the founding fathers thought it was going to get this personal).
I myself have often found myself torn between the two. I think personally we should alternate, one of the best things about Christmas is that you make your own traditions and never apologize for how you choose to celebrate. Of course, you choose to allow how you need Christmas in your life, just remember two things; it’s not a purity contest and keep your heart and head open.
After that is what Christmas is all about, the joy you pass on to others.
So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Festivus for the rest of us and Winter Solstice if your Wicca. And have a Happy New Year!