For most of my adult life, I have become accustomed to a hearing a common mantra during December: “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I’ve also been very aware of the emotionally charged debate of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy holidays.” My question: Why all this angst in the “season of joy”?
Frankly, I use “Happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas” interchangeably. I struggle to find how that makes me a bad Christian, but some people suggest it does. There are hundreds of subjective discussion points in this debate if all we want to do is argue—ironic, given that most people claim this is a season of “peace and good will toward men.”
If you are the first to greet me, with “Happy holidays,” I will likely respond in kind. The same for “Merry Christmas.” Even if your greeting were “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa,” I would probably respond in kind in deference to your state of being. Think of it this way: When you wish me “Have a good day,” I will generally respond with, “You too.” I would never think of responding by wishing you a terrible day. So why would I do so with any other greeting?
I am privileged to have been born in a great country with freedoms not granted to much of the rest of the world. I am free to exercise my religion, as is anyone else. This season is an opportunity for Christians to strike up friendly discussions about all the love and forgiveness that Jesus offers. However, it is extremely hard to do that if you snarl, “Merry Christmas,” back at someone who has just greeted you with a different phrase.
When Jesus walked the earth, as the only perfect human being in the eyes of God, he said, “Follow me.” He instructed us to love our neighbors, to give to those less fortunate and to share with everyone, the way to Heaven in a fallen world. It was actually simple. We have made it far too complicated.
The second we fall into the trap of requiring other people to do what we want in order to receive something as simple as a kind greeting back from us, we’ve failed to communicate the truth about Christmas. The spirit of Christ and the way to “Keep Christ in Christmas” to me is to focus, more than ever, on doing for others, sharing our gifts and setting our own desires aside, in the name of Jesus who did it first for all of us.
If you think about it, maybe that is the way we are wired. Could that be the reason why people often experience a sense of happiness and joy when they donate to charities this time of year? Now, consider that perhaps your gift does not have to be a big check, a bag of food or a new toy to have an impact. A friendly greeting that acknowledges that every person has the potential to be redeemed by the gift of Jesus is the simplest way to begin.
So when presented with a friendly greeting of any sort this holiday season, I attempt to remember that we are all God’s children. For me, that means no matter where you live, who you are, what your politics are or what you currently think about religion, I have one responsibility—to treat you as Jesus would and offer you the same message of salvation.
The debate will no doubt rage on until the end of time. But as one person, trying to live my faith the best way I can, allow me to thank you for your kind greeting, whatever it might be, and to offer you my “Merry Christmas” in return.