“Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”… Part One:Is It Time To Give This One Up?

For about 20 years or so now, my mom has owned a Hallmark store. I would work there when I was in high school and during college breaks. Obviously, I would work more at Christmas time. On several occasions there, I would have conversations with other employees about the appropriate phrase to say to customers after ringing them up. Some insisted on saying “Happy Holiday” (or something similar), and claimed that saying “Merry Christmas” would be offensive. I, being the proud (and stubborn) Christian that I am insisted on saying “Merry Christmas,” and a few others did with me. People did notice, and some even commented. Interestingly, I never once heard someone say they were offended. Instead, I kept hearing people (Christians, or at least nominally) tell me how much they appreciated that, and they couldn’t stand hearning “Happy Holidays.”

Christians seem to think that they’re losing something in a culture that says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” To give another example, just check out this new song by the Christian Singing Group “Go Fish” called “Christmas With a Capital C.”

The more I think about this, the more I wonder if it’s just time for Christians to give this fight up. Maybe it would be better for the sake of our witness simply to recognize that American culture, broadly speaking, does not celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a holiday marked by worshiping God for sending his Son, Jesus Christ into the world. Our culture celebrates “The Holiday Season,” a holiday that’s not Christmas, but happens to be celebrated at the same time of the year. Maybe instead of insisting that our neighbors and local businesses acknowledge our celebration of Christmas, it’s time for us to acknowledge that our culture is no longer interested in celebrating Christmas per se. Then we can respond missiologically rather than by fighting a culture war and longing for a return to Christendom and the cultural privileges that came with it.

For the half dozen or so of you who read this, I”m curious to know your thoughts. Has the American “Holiday Season” become something entirely different from Christmas? Should Christians acknowledge this? If so, is it ok for Christians to celebrate both Christmas and Holiday Season, or should Christians reject the alternative?

And since WordPress now lets you create polls:

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9 thoughts on ““Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”… Part One:Is It Time To Give This One Up?

  1. Well, I always feel bad because the Christmas cards I buy are really “holiday” cards because I buy them in bulk and give them to co-workers and Christian friends alike (although most of my co-workers are Christian… I think. Anyway, even if my cards say “Happy Holidays” I make sure to write the words “Merry Christmas” for the people I know are Christians. I realize that there are more holidays out there than just Christian ones during this season, but I feel, as Christians, we have every right to wish everyone we see a Merry Christmas. If they celebrate anything else, they can tell me. Then I will wish them a Happy whatever-you-celebrate. Simple as that. People shouldn’t get mad. America is supposed to be all about religious freedom… it just seems like it’s religious freedom for everyone except the Christians.

  2. I have my own thoughts about this too. Frankly, does it really even matter? I’m not sure I agree, at all, with the concept that Christians in America somehow are restricted on their religious freedom. Although Christ is not accepted in schools, legislative and judiciary locales, when was the last time someone scorned you or kept you from practicing as a Christian in this country, that you did not bring on yourself, by yourself? Not to mention all the missionary works going on where Christians practically force their belief system upon others. I’m afraid I don’t see your point at all Rainey.

    Check out my blog here if you’re interested. I personally think Easter should matter much more to Christians than Christmas, but I could be wrong…

    http://biblebeating.blogspot.com/2008/12/merry-christmas-vs-happy-holidays-does.html

  3. I chafe every time I hear “Happy Holidays.” I wouldn’t have a problem with a secular holiday that happened to occur at the same time as Christmas, but that’s not what the “Holiday Season” is. Instead, it is a Christian holiday stripped of its Christian content. So: no, I don’t think we should go along with the “Happy Holidays” trend. But neither do I think we should blame secular culture for this perceived slight against Christianity. In this, as in so many other things, the real problem is that Christians offer no real countercultural witness. Christians, not atheists, invented secular Christmas. And for all of our lamenting about the secularization of the holiday, where will nearly all of us be on the actual day? At home with family opening gifts. Most Protestant churches don’t even offer a worship service.

    I don’t think we should force anyone to acknowledge Christmas. But we should think seriously about how we participate in the secular holiday. Our culture’s celebration of a holiday tied to Christianity is a great opportunity to witness to what we believe, if only we are willing to be different than the culture around us. There are many different ways this could be done. But I think a good place to start is by celebrating the birth of Christ by worshiping with Christ’s body.

  4. I agree with Dan!
    And, I could go on and on about the theological significance of the Incarnation and why it is just as important as the crucifixion/resurrection, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that God taking on human flesh is the only way in which we could have been saved and/or brought into full communion with him. Therefore, celebrating Christmas is of utmost importance.

  5. I sent Jack Haberer an earful on this one when the notice from the Presby outlook (to buy subscriptions as gifts, as if.) came with “seasons greetings”. I pointed out that a Christian Publication to a Christian audience ought to be able to say merry Christmas if anybody could. (in his defense, I did get a nice note back).

    I give the appropriate greeting to anyone I know celebrates another holiday (on the appropriate days, I don’t assume they are the same), but my default is Merry Christmas.

    I do remember a science fiction movie somewhere back in the 80s where they celebrated “commerce day”. I believe that’s what most Americans celebrate, even when they decorate it in Christmas or Chanukah paper.

    I agree with Andrea that we don’t get folks in on Christmas (even when it falls on Sunday!) but we do get them in on Christmas eve and we need to preach the incarnation then. Because it is important.

    Finally, as a tribute to a certain Scottish professor, the celebration has become an abstract noun separated from the reality it was intended to convey. Maybe that’s why I don’t really get into the decoration/decking the halls, etc.

  6. If you want to get technical about it, if we are truly observing the season of Advent versus the ho-ho-holiday season, we shouldn’t say Merry Christmas at all until December 25 and for the 12 days after (and just imagine the funny looks you’d get saying Merry Christmas on January 3). As I have grown older and grown in my faith, I find Advent a much more meaningful spiritual journey than the consumer driven fiasco that Christmas has become.

    I think this is largely a silly issue. The War on Christmas is replayed every year and every year I wish we could just skip this faux issue. Christmas as it is celebrated in the U.S. culture has precious little to do with the coming of Christ, and everything to do with buying stuff, eating stuff, getting stuff, returning stuff, rinse, lather, repeat. Is your faith threatened because some clerk at Best Buy says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas? Please. I wonder how you would have fared back in the day when the emperor spent his days thinking up ever more imaginative ways to execute Christians. You think you’ve got troubles?

    We should celebrate the reality of the Living Christ moving in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit every single day, in ways that honor the tremendous and undeserved gift of grace we have been given. The rest is just an excuse to have a party. The one thing I do appreciate about this time of year is that folks generally seem to be more aware of and responsive to the needs of the least and the lost. That is why I’m less of a scrooge than the rest of this post would otherwise indicate. If it takes a little ho-ho-ho and mistletoe to inspire people to be more generous and kind than they are the rest of the year, then I’m all for it. But that guy who got trampled at Wal-Mart has made me less confident even about that this year.

    That said, I still think that “In the Bleak Midwinter” is one of the most beautiful carols/hymns/poems ever written.

  7. Interesting post, Mike –

    I agree with several of the above comments, which make the point that “Christmas” as celebrated in our Western culture has little to do with the traditional Christian conception of Christmas; as such, I think it’s no travesty that some people say “Happy Holidays” and others say “Merry Christmas.” Though I don’t consider myself a practicing Christian, I still celebrate the secular version of Christmas, but the reason I put “Happy Holidays” on my Christmas cards is because I consider the “Holiday Season” to stretch from Thanksgiving through New Year’s (or, technically, the Twelfth Night, since that’s Dan’s birthday). The secular holiday season is, I think, about more than just Christmas Day.

    That’s my practical reason for using “Happy Holidays.” The stubbornness inside me, however, gets all pissy when people make a fuss about the War on Christmas. For crying out loud, people. Celebrating the birth of Christ on December 25 is an arbitrary assignation of the Catholic Church in order to supplant the pagan holidays that occurred at this time every year. Technically, the ancient Christmas was pagan. So… where does that leave us?

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