A common theme I’ve seen over the last few years is an increasingly intense dislike of the term “Happy Holidays.” Too many people seem to believe this phrase was put out there to strip Christmas of its religious meaning. Some politicians have set a standard by trying to act more secular outwardly, and this gives people the false impression that they are trying to disrespect Christ and Christians. Some even accused Obama of calling them “Holiday trees” and banning any religious content from them whatsoever (that is not true.) Some schools have opted to show more equality by removing Christmas-themed programs and replacing them with “Winter Festivals” and “Winter concerts.” It seems that the biggest beef, though, comes when businesses choose to go the “safe” and secular route and wish everyone a happy holiday. Christians accuse atheists (primarily) of causing this “problem,” saying that atheists get “offended” by the term Merry Christmas and have now caused businesses to “take the Christ out of Christmas.” This is not about you, it is about recognizing that our country has become a place of religious diversity, whether you like it or not. If people want to publicly wish you “happy holidays,” they are acknowledging that you are part of a greater whole, this season isn’t all about you, but they are still including you in it. They are also doing the same for the rest of us that celebrate at this time of year, a courtesy that we deserve as well. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.
“But this is OUR holiday! It’s called CHRISTmas!”
Actually, it’s not really your holiday- or at least, it wasn’t. And it wasn’t called Christmas, because it existed long before Christianity was born. Even the date was already taken by Roman holidays. Holidays taking place at this time of year include(d) Roman holidays such as Saturnalia, the purported Dies Natalia Solis Invicti (“Birthday of the unconquerable sun”) and Roman New Year; Scandinavian Yule; Germanic mid-winter festivals; and pagan solstice celebrations. Some say that when the date of Christmas was chosen by Pope Julius I, as there is no date of Christ’s birth listed in the Bible, it was partly because of this season of festivals. (Others believe that Christ was conceived in the spring, around the equinox, which puts his birth nine months later.) Other holidays that take place at the end of December are Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and more recently, Festivus (for the rest of us! ;))
Even the traditions that are solidly planted in Christmas today were mostly taken from other religions. Bringing a tree into the home and decorating it with ornaments and trimmings is a pagan tradition. Yule logs were Germanic. Hanging greenery (wreaths, garland, etc,) giving gifts, lights and the general merry “spirit” and a focus on charity are all present in pre-Christian Roman winter-holiday traditions. In fact, very few Christmas traditions at all have anything to do with Jesus. And that’s okay.
Today, even Christmas is observed by many non-Christian people, some from other religions. “Your” holiday has become so much more than “Christ’s Mass” and instead of being offended, be amazed. The messages of hope, joy, and love that are spread during this time of year are so powerful and wonderful and believe it or not, often have nothing to do with Christ. People from all faiths can share in the spirit and cheer, the traditions and the festivities, adopting them for their own as mid-era Christians adopted them and they can choose to call it Christmas, or not.
No one is wishing any harm to you by wishing you “Happy Holidays.” They are including you- and you should be grateful that they thought to do so- how many people speak to you with a cheerful smile and heartfelt greeting in the other eleven months of the year? They are including me, too, which doesn’t happen often. So let’s not focus on the “War on Christmas” but instead LOOK AROUND YOU and revel in the magical wonder that all over the world, people with your religion, another religion, even NO religion are celebrating in a very uncommon display of unity. The “reason for the season” is a deeply personal thing; for me, an atheist since childhood, inspiration is a fleeting glimpse at what could be. If you could see what I see- people from so many faiths and walks of life celebrating together in spite of the general disharmony in the world, you might be inspired too. So let’s not get offended, angry and upset if someone wants to respect both of us because the way I see it, peace and brotherhood is what it’s all about. Happy Holidays.
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”