It is not even Thanksgiving yet, and the moral dilemma over whether to wish friends “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” has begun. It’s been an ongoing controversy for many years, dubbed “the war on Christmas,” few people know that it originated with the John Birch Society, back in 1959. In a flyer titled “There Goes Christmas”, the Society espoused the idea that a Communist plot to “take the Christ out of Christmas” was afoot, replacing traditional Christmas decorations with United Nation iconography in an effort to stamp out all religion and cede U.S. sovereignty to the U.N. (If this sounds sort of familiar, it continues as a popular conspiracy tenet within some groups.) In more recent years, conservative television and radio hosts, such as Bill O’Reilly, have taken up the cry (although they leave out the Birch Society theories and place the blame on secular humanists, atheists, and liberals).
I find it amusing that so many of my friends, huge fans of “Our Founding Fathers” have no idea that a real war on Christmas was waged by our own Puritan ancestors, when they outlawed Christmas celebrations in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”
The Puritans could find no biblical reason to celebrate Christ’s birth. The December birth date for Jesus wasn’t established until several centuries after his death (although many historians believe that Jesus was most likely born in September, and others believe it may have been March). Moreover, holiday celebration generally included drinking, feasting, and playing games—all activities the Puritans frowned on in their serious pursuit of pleasing God. Christmas was banned in the Boston area for 22 years, and didn’t really gain in popularity until the 1800s.
“Happy Holidays” can refer to over a dozen different celebrations observed by many countries and cultures, not the least of which are ones in the United States that fall in the few weeks from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, including Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Eid al-Adha (Islamic New Year). Like it or not, we are a multicultural country (anyone remember taking great pride in America being a “melting pot”? Apparently, we’re not so proud of that, anymore. We’ve taken a dislike to all those foreigners and their odd customs, despite the fact that our grandparents and great-grandparents brought their own traditions with them.)
You can say “Merry Christmas”, you can shout “Happy Holidays”, you can send me cards that say “Season’s Greetings” or “Joyous Jule”, you can even write “Merry Xmas” on your holiday letter and it won’t bother me a bit (by the way, using “X” for Christ is not derogatory—it’s the Greek letter “Chi”—an abbreviation even Jesus would approve). How you greet me doesn’t tell me much about your religious beliefs, your ethics, or your morality. You’ll demonstrate all of that in how you behave in the 365 days after Christmas. So, enjoy your holiday season, and don’t worry so much about how others greet you; appreciate that they thought enough of you to extend their best wishes and offer them the same.