Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Disciple's Response to "Happy Holidays"

Over the past few years, I have noticed that I hear traditional Christmas songs less and less often in the stores and on the radio. I used to hear songs such as “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as often as I’d hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls.” Now, however, the traditional song “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come” has been replaced by “Joy to the World, all the boys and girls” (as in Jeremiah was a bullfrog). Only very infrequently is the song played that makes a reference to the birth of Jesus. TV advertisements entreat us to shop in their stores for our “holiday” gifts rather than our “Christmas” gifts. Nativity scenes are replaced by Santa and his reindeer on city hall lawns. School children don’t exchange gifts anymore. What is the “correct” way to celebrate the big holiday that comes at the end of December has become a pressing issue for many communities.

This year marks a sharp escalation in the controversy over Christmas. Now Christians are fighting to take back their sacred holiday by boycotting stores that sell “holiday trees” rather than Christmas trees and that offer greetings of “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” The other day I heard of a lady who, when the checkout clerk at Lowes bade her goodbye with “Happy Holidays,” launched into a lecture on the true meaning of the season. When the manager told her that the standard greeting in their store was “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” the indignant shopper promptly returned her purchase.

The local news last week interviewed the proprietress of a tree lot who remarked that at least one customer wanted to know what kind of trees she was selling—Christmas or Holiday—before committing to make a selection. It seems that all across the country, Christians and non-Christian traditionalists want to make sure that the establishments they frequent this season will celebrate the correct holiday, and they are kicking up a lot of dust and ill feelings in their fight.

All over Christian talk radio, the word is that more and more, Christians in our country are facing persecution. At no time that I can recall has this idea been more evident than this Christmas season. Christians know from Jesus’ teaching that they will be persecuted for their beliefs, but is what is being experienced now real or only perceived persecution? Is there a vast conspiracy that is out to sabotage Christmas? What is the correct response whether the persecution is real or only perceived?

Jesus himself showed his disciples that the way to overcome evil intentions and actions is to respond with love and kindness. He said that his followers are to be glad and rejoice when they are persecuted. Jesus went so far as to say that his followers should not resist people who act with evil intentions against us. If someone hits us, he says, we are to not hit back, but we should allow that person to hit us again. If we are not to strike back when someone is trying to do us bodily harm, why do we strike back when the war is only with words? It seems that the person who engages in an argument in a store about the true meaning of Christmas is doing more harm to the cause of Christ than he or she is bringing benefit. The angels’ words “Peace on Earth, good will to men” are reduced to nothing more than a meaningless slogan.

What harm, really, is being done to us by the clerk who bids us “Season’s Greetings” or the store that sells holiday trees and holiday gifts? The next time someone wishes me a “Happy Holiday,” I'm just going to smile and say, “Yes, it is a very happy one!”


Tony Arnold said...

Is it passive agressive to return "Happy Holidays" with "Merry Christmas" and leave it at that?

I understand the Christian umbrage. I do not understand why Christian undertones are threatening. I don't think it is past Christian behavior, because Christ in Christmas hasn't been too much of a threat before. I attribute it primarily to the growing population of non-Christians in the U.S.

However, I wonder: Is this God's way of making everything work to His glory? That is, if Christ is too closely tied to a holiday, does it water down the real Christ? Has it become an innocuous idolatry that actually undermines an understanding of His ture being?

Also, does all the controversy help re-create a real study of Christ and what He is? I can imagine an ambivalent non-believer saying, "I always just took Christ in Christmas for granted. I never really thought about Christ specifically until all this controversy. Hmm, causes me to think a little..."

Truth is, if our faith is shaken by this movement away from "Christmas", it is not much of a faith. Maybe the best way to counteract this movement is to just serve those in need and when they say thankyou, respond with, "it is through Christ I serve, and Christ loves you."


Tony Arnold said...

P.S. This would be a great MD post.

JMG said...

Very interesting comments, Tony. You may be onto something.

Ayatollah Mugsy said...

I saw a poll on one of the news channels the other day that said over 40 percent of Americans think that "Christmas is under attack." That may be true, but honestly, I don't see it. I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC just the other day. Surely if Christmas were under attack, that venerable cartoon would be one of the first victims.

As far as businesses telling their employees to use a certain greeting or calling their trees holiday trees (which does seem rather ridiculous), I think it is purely a business decision. They don't want to offend any potential customers, be they Jews, atheists or canine Muslims. Would it really make good business sense to wish a Jewish customer a Merry Christmas?

In my view, anyone who would take offense to someone wishing them "Happy Holidays" is just being a stick in the mud.

Tony Arnold said...

Ayatollah, good point about it being a business decision. But as a Christian it wouldn't offend me to have the owner of the Deli wish me "Happy Hanukkah", or the the lady at the pet store a "Happy Year of the Dog". ;-)


Ayatollah Mugsy said...

I agree with you, Tony. We should never be offended by such a greeting when it is clearly delivered with the best of intentions. Too many humans are too easily offended. But I do think that from a customer-service perspective, there is a slight destinction to be made. By wishing a complete stranger a "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" or "Cheery Kwanzaa," workers run the risk of appearing inconsiderate of the customer's beliefs. By using a generic greeting such as "Happy Holidays," that risk is mitigated.

That is why Pug Life is an interfaith, interspecies ministry. We cast a wide net.