Allow me to begin this semi-controversial post with two disclaimers, or what my logic and rhetoric professors would have called “assumptions:” For the remainder of this reading, please assume that I am a Christian (as I am), and that I am both a poet and language arts educator (which I also am). This means two things — 1. I have no problem saying Merry Christmas to anyone, and often do so both publicly and privately, and 2. I spend a lot of time thinking about the way words are constructed, their connotations, and their overall impression upon audience.
All these assumptions lead us to the real meat of this post: People who angrily insist upon “Merry Christmas” when shopping, on the phone, or in the public forum at large. Yes, I’d like to see everyone wishing everyone else a Merry Christmas, but here’s the thing — God-fearing Christian folks, when you’re in line at the grocery store/Wal-Mart/Target, and the already overburdened clerk says “Happy Holidays,” then and there is not the time to launch into a political and dogmatic soapbox about the use of Merry Christmas. People have families to get home to, dinners to prepare, cards or invitations to send out, and frankly, your high-minded and heavy-handed semantics are only making the season slower and worse for everyone in line behind you.
If you’re that concerned about conveying Jesus to the world, perhaps a better tactic would be to show grace, love, and a touch of holiday empathy to that already overworked person in the store uniform who’s helping you. Look around — everyone knows it’s not just “the holidays” — manger scenes, stars of Bethlehem, advent calendars, and a whole host of heavenly hosts can be found all around you. Yes, there are also snowmen and Santas and all the gaudy lights that Charlie Brown abhorred, but there, in the midst of all that commercialism, is Luke Two, also.
From a strictly academic standpoint, the phrase “Happy Holidays” is more vague and, although alliterative, bland to the point of being trite. Maybe it is this linguistic homogeneity that is the source of conflict — it’s not the lack of Merry Christmas, it’s that the alternative sounds so generic and impersonal. We like people that are regularly in contact with us to know our names, and a little of our likes and dislikes. When we’re confronted with the ho-hum Happy Holidays, we feel like we’ve been shortchanged in some way. That much is understandable.
But to turn a well-wish into an open wound of ill-perceived malice and religious persecution is to defeat the spirit of the season entirely. What makes you so special that you MUST receive a Merry Christmas over any other type of parting exchange? Would you be so offended by the nonseasonal “Have a Nice Day?” How about “Take care now?”
Listen: I make my living from words and their direct and indirect meanings. If anyone should have a beef about what language is used when and how, it should be me. But I’m not going to lambaste the poor soul who wishes me a happy holiday, a good evening, or even a (gasp) Happy Hanukkah. I may return their good tidings with a Merry Christmas of my own, or I might simply say thank you. But to use my faith as a weapon of ridicule? No thanks.
Lighten up, ye merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay, including what the tattooed kid at the cash register says. May your days be merry and bright. Enjoy this Christmas season and all its glorious traditions with family, friends, and others. Let us keep the good cheer through civility, respectful discourse, and that most universal of all greetings: an honest smile. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.