As we enter the holiday shopping season, I would like to call out a few points about the whole “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” debate.
This is an extremely stressful season for those of us who make our living in the retail marketplace. Most of us rely on sales from this season to make up for the poorer sales that occur throughout the rest of the year. Many of my customers this season I see throughout the year, but the vast majority will be people I see only once a year, if that.
My biggest pleasure in serving you this season will be to help you find just the right gift for that special someone on your list. In order to do that, I will have to learn some things from you about the intended recipient. I will ask about their likes and dislikes, but I probably won’t ask about their religion, and I certainly won’t be asking you about yours. It’s just not relevant to the task at hand (and there are a lot of other people whom I also need to help!)
At the end of our time together, hopefully I will be tallying up your purchase. As we both are aware, this is a season of giving as well as shopping, so I may take the opportunity to wish you well as you go on your way. If you made it clear to me in our conversation that you are a Christian, I will probably wish you a Merry Christmas. If you have indicated you are Jewish, I may say Happy Chanukah. If you have shared that you are a Pagan, I will wish you Good Yule, or Happy Solstice. If you haven’t shared your religious beliefs with me, I will most likely say Happy Holidays. This is not because I “hate” Christmas or Christians; it is merely because I don’t know what you might be celebrating this season.
There is also a very strong possibility that I will wish you a Merry Christmas, anyway, since I am a Christian, and it is my cultural fall-back phrase. Again, it wouldn’t be said as any sort of challenge to you; I wouldn’t be trying to force you into my beliefs. I would say it only because we have shared a (hopefully) pleasurable experience together, and I want to wish you well, one person to another.
In any case, I would hope that, as a member of this pluralistic society, you can recognize when a fellow human being is simply wishing you well, and accept that wish in the spirit in which it’s given—as opposed to responding with, say, a lecture about political correctness, or about freedom of/from religion, etc.
One last point: In my opinion, the real War on Christmas is waged by the incessant marketing and commercialization of the holiday. If I had my way, we in the retail world would completely sever all marketing from Christmas / Chanukah / Solstice / Kwanzaa or other holidays, and just refer to it as the Winter Gifting Season. That way, as a Christian, I might feel like I am allowed to celebrate my holiday from Dec 25 through Jan 6, as it should be, rather than being forced to celebrate it from Thanksgiving through Dec 25, and then shut the door on it.
J Howard Boyd manages an independent bookstore in Seattle WA. He is a Christian married to a Pagan. So far, nothing in their house has burned but the occasional pie.