When I’m out and about at this time of year, I wait to hear how others greet me. If they say Happy Holidays, I say Happy Holidays back. If they say Merry Christmas, I say Merry Christmas back.
If they don’t say anything, I’ll default to Happy Holidays. Sometimes I’ll say Season’s Greetings to see if they’re paying attention. If it’s a smaller establishment, and I see mangers and Bible Versus and ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ signs, I’ll go out on a limb and say Merry Christmas.
That’s from how I was raised, and from years of not just pastoral ministry, but also chaplaincy. In chaplaincy, you might be called into a room where you don’t know the background of the people in question. Rather than plow in with guns blazing, waiting to see and hear what they have to say is the better move.
After all, needlessly offending or hurting someone makes you careless at best, or a jerk at worst. We used to say the Gospel is offensive enough, don’t add to it.
On the other hand, I’m not offended if people say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. After all, there’s more than one holiday this time of year. If they know I’m a Christian, then I’m a bit curious about it, but not offended. I think if I got offended by Happy Holidays, or by Merry Christmas in my agnostic days, then the problem would be with me. I would need to grow up and realize the other 7 billion people in the world don’t exist to always make me feel warm and fuzzy.
With that said, I also don’t want to be told I can’t say Merry Christmas, no matter what the circumstances. I’ll make that call myself. There’s something hypocritical about stores basing their annual sales projections on a healthy Christmas season that turn around and tell their employees not to say Christmas. There’s also something fundamentally creepy about a nation that has spent decades pining for more open F-Bombs and sexual explicitness bothered about the utterance of the word Christmas or the name Jesus. In fact, there’s something strangely prophetic about it.
The same, by the way, goes for Christmas trees and other holiday specific terms. We don’t say candle stand that holds nine candles. We can say Christmas trees or Christmas songs. As I’ve said, maybe I read Orwell at an impressionable age, but I’m leery about our society doing things that seem to be what Orwell warned against. And variations on newspeak are just the sort of thing to make me think the problem is bigger than the name for a decorated evergreen tree.
Anyhoo, that’s about as much thought as I give to the subject. I don’t take seeing the faith squeezed out of the public forum lightly. And even the smallest instance could spell trouble down the road. History is, after all, studying the results of missed warning signs. Likewise, newspeak and hypocrisy don’t float my boat either. I try to be polite, considerate of others, and hopefully leave people smiling more than they were when I walked into the store. I won’t get bent out of shape if someone says Happy Holidays. I’ll do my best to reciprocate, but if I slip and say Merry Christmas, hopefully they won’t need therapy as a result.