A few days ago, as I was checking-out at a grocery store, the employee who had just rung me up said ‘Happy Holidays’. The statement was sincere, it was not meant in mockery, and I could tell that the employee was having a good day. But before I could thank him, someone standing behind me shouted, ‘You mean ‘Merry Christmas’, right?’ At this point I was in shock over the nerve of this person and the employee became defensive. I shook my head at the customer behind me and simply walked away. I wasn’t about to get involved in a debate at the check-out line.
My story above is becoming a common one. But there is more happening here than simply the interjections of a rude person. In that ten seconds of dialogue, something is lost that is really the tragedy of this whole ‘war on Christmas’ that FOX News has so eagerly forced upon the public. The loss is the loss of sincerity. That employee wasn’t trying to insult me, or start a debate, or infuse secularism into our culture. That employee wasn’t trying to offend the rude person behind me in line. The employee was only trying to be courteous. They didn’t know me from Adam and, rather than making the assumption that I’m a Christian, he went with the generic ‘Happy Holidays’. And by that, as a sane human being, I was able to recognize that he meant he hoped that I had a joyous celebration of whatever holiday I practice.
But as a result of this ridiculous ‘war on Christmas’ nonsense, that employee was castrated by someone behind me; someone he had to now check-out. Unlike me, who can walk away, he had to stay there and listen to that person rant about how the secular agendas of the socialist government are stripping away the rights of Christians, blah blah blah. And as a result of that, that employee may be hesitant to wish anyone a Happy Holidays, or a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah, for fear of being chastised for it. All sincerity he had, all the joy he had, stripped from him because some jerk who follows Glenn Beck on Facebook couldn’t mind his own business.
There is another side to this story, though. Because since that event, every time someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I get a twitch. Are they being sincere or just nudging me to say something back, just to get a rise out of me, or to start a debate. Are they being serious? Sarcastic? Cynical? I can’t tell anymore. My ‘sincerity meter’ is broken. And that is a real shame. I love this time of year. I love the idea of the holiday season. I like the ideal Dickens Christmas. It doesn’t have to be religious for me; it certainly wasn’t religious for Dickens.
This season is supposed to be about charity, and good works, and family fun, and feeling new and whole again with the start of a new year just around the corner. Instead I’m pulling the hood over my head and shadowing myself from season’s greetings because I am afraid to get into a polemical battle of rhetoric over the ‘reason for the season’. I have to drive behind people with ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ bumper stickers, most of whom have no idea how ludicrous those stickers are really. I doubt I am the only one disenchanted this year.
The irony of it all is that secularism isn’t trying to take Christmas away; it was secularism that gave us Christmas, the way we celebrate it today, in the first place. When the Puritans came to this continent, they outlawed the celebration of Christmas. They didn’t come here for religious freedom. Religious freedom implies that they came here to start a colony where other religions could practice peacefully. No, they kicked you out if you practiced any other religion other than their own. The first place in this country that celebrated ‘religious freedom’ was the colony of Rhode Island (originally Providence) when its founder was kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay colony because he had different religious views. It was also the first colony to renounce the British during the Revolutionary War period.
Christmas was not a part of American culture. Protestants didn’t really celebrate it–certainly not the Puritans and Quakers, but Catholics did and Catholics were not the most beloved citizens of the time. It was not until the Victorian period, until Dickens and Irving idealized Christmas, that it became fashionable to celebrate. And even still, it was not made a legal holiday until after the American Civil War. And in a large sense, Christmas was secularized so that protestants could also celebrate it; it was no longer just a Catholic religious celebration but a celebration that became, truly, a universal holiday. For coverage, I direct your attention to Jon Stewart:
In one part of the segment Stewart trusted the History Channel and as a result suffered a pants on fire rating from Politifact (whoops!), proving one again that the History Channel does not live up to its name and, frankly, is untrustworthy (though lay people will continue to trust it, regardless). Despite this, Stewart is correct about almost everything else. And he makes his case quite well, even with his one incorrect statement about legislative branch.
Though I would like to make it clear I am not ‘against Christmas’. In fact I think ‘Merry Christmas’ has a place in the season, just as does ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings’. I have a post on it here:
I am greatly concerned this time of year for the sincerity that has been a part of this season since the late 19th century. If we don’t act towards preserving it, it will be lost to us. It will become a cynical season, one where nobody trusts anybody and everyone is more concerned about the polemics of the debate than about giving to each other regardless of religious, social, or cultural backgrounds. It is upsetting to think that this part of the season is doomed. But if certain people have their way, we can kiss the joy of this season goodbye.