Because Nothing Says Joy to the World…

Because Nothing Says Joy to the World… November 29, 2012

…like an angry spittle-flecked demagogue in need of Insensitivity Training:

Here’s the thing. I say “Merry Christmas”. If I’m talking to a Jewish person and it’s later in the month, I’ll wish them a Happy Hanukkah or a Happy Holidays. If I go to the store and somebody says, “Happy Holidays” I happily accept it and wish them a cheery “Merry Christmas”. I don’t lay awake at night getting angry about the “War on Christmas” or fretting about godless damn libruls who are scheming against it. If some insufferable PC demagogue does something silly like say “holiday tree” (which is as dumb as “holiday menorah”) I laugh. So do most liberals I know, since everybody knows it’s a Christmas tree–including the Jews who strove to restore Christmas trees to Seattle-Tacoma airport when some PC nitwit decided to make a desert and call it peace on earth by banishing even “holiday trees” from the airport.

Here’s reality:  we live in an increasingly post-Christian culture.  We also live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith culture.  Store clerks and other such functionaries aren’t making “war” on Christmas.  They are trying to be friendly, get you through the check out line, and not make trouble or get screamed at by hyper-sensitive people.  So they opt for “Happy Holidays” and hope that some hyper-sensitive adherent of an Abrahamic religion or pagan obsessive or atheist human toothache does not freak out and shout about being oppressed for their failure to hail Eid/Ramadan/Hanukkah/Christmas/the Winter Solstice/freedom from religion.  If we, as Catholics, commemorate Christmas by being joyful about the Incarnation and lightening the burden of intimidation faced by ordinary schleps dealing with the public, that’s an evangelistic win for us.  If we join the chorus of crazy angry religious people yelling at confused post-Christians, we just help to ensure that more people remain or become post-Christian.

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  • Michelle

    One of my favorite scenes on “Everybody Loves Raymond” was when Frank Barone, in an attempt to be charming so he could scam the store, said “Merry Christmas!” to the sales clerk. She responded, “Merry Christmas.” Then he went into a hyper-pious soliloquy to “the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” to which she responded “I’m Jewish.” The episode, not-so-by-the-way, was written by Phil Rosenthal, who is also Jewish.

    In my experience, Jews and other non-Christians usually are very gracious about receiving Christmas wishes by those who make an honest mistake by presuming everyone celebrates Christmas. They are usually very happy to wish “Merry Christmas!” to those they know to be Christian. It is instead the Christians who tend to get hyper-sensitive about not hearing “Merry Christmas!” from absolutely every single person they meet from Black Friday through December 25.

    • RFlaum

      Well, naturally Jews like Christmas; it’s a celebration of the birth of the only Jewish boy ever to live up to his mother’s expectations.

      • Mark Shea

        Ba dum bum!

        • anoniguy

          His mother thought he was God, he thought his mother was a version, he went into his father’s business…

          • anoniguy

            hm, interesting auto-correct of “virgin”

  • Linda C.

    Excellent points, especuially the conclusion. Store clerks often say what they are told to say—it may not be their call. When a clerk says “Merry Christmas” (as sometimes happens), I smile and say it right back. 😉

  • Word.

    And Happy Non-Denominational Gift-Giving Season!

    • ivan_the_mad

      Don’t you mean, HAPPY SPENDMAS???

      • ivan_the_mad

        Mas is Spanish for more … eh??? EH??? Le pun!

  • Thanks for this. I grew up in a largely Jewish suburb of New York and I didn’t presume that the store clerks, or anyone else I met, were Christian. “Happy Holidays” was a perfectly acceptable social grease for December even 40 years ago, and it still is, imo, even though I now live in the Bible Belt.

  • Who made this picture? Is it from O’Reilly himself or his fans? A couple things wrong with it:

    1. The “war on Christmas” hype really rings hollow when it comes from O’Reilly, who is at best ambivilent on such things as abortion and same-sex “marriage.” He strains out a gnat to swallow a camel.

    2. O’Reilly never served in the freaking military. Whose bright idea was it to put him in a uniform? Whiskey tango foxtrot?

    • Arnold

      You must not watch his show much or you would know that he strongly and sometimes, emotionally, expresses his opposition to abortion. I do not think the poster was made by O’Reilly or his supporters but by someone who dislikes and wishes to mock him. No idea where Mark got it. O’Reilly usually goes after the politicians like Gov. Chafee of RI who try to impose their secularist vision of the holiday season and “holiday trees.”

    • Nina

      Plus O’Reilly’s 24/7 pimping of his ghost-written books & O’ gear as Christmas gifts kinda make him look like a tool. Well, more of a tool than he already is. But didn’t he go to Chaminade? I’ve never met a Chaminade grad who WASN’T a tool. Or any guy from Long Island, actually. Ugh.

      • Mary French

        All of the proceeds from his books and O’Reilly gear goes to the Wounded Warrior charity or other charities.

  • Will

    I have to restrain myself from telling people “I don’t celebrate Holiday.” You know, when we go to Holiday parties to gather around the Holiday tree and sing “We wish you a merry Holiday”, and “It’s beginning to look a lot like Holiday.” You may gather that my experience is quite different from Michelle’s.

    But then, some of my best friends are witches. Come to think of it, ALL of my best friends are witches.

    And what about Gurnenthar’s Ascendance?

    • Nina

      A few years ago, the company my husband works for banned “holiday” parties (which were named “holiday” parties as the result of banning “Christmas” parties because the non-Christians complained). They were now to be called “end-of-year events” because the Jehovah’s Witnesses who worked for the company complained about being excluded since their religion did not allow them to attend “parties” or have “holidays”, or some such nonsense. So that “Holiday” thing may be more than some people are allowed to celebrate. Be happy you at least get “Holiday”.

      Of course, if your religion precludes you from attending parties, but you’re allowed to go if you just call them another name, that’s not much of a religion. No Christmas, no holidays, no parties, but, sure, partake of the free food and giveaways as long as you give it a bland non-name. It’s an event. Held at the end of the year. And we get stuff. Whatever.

      Seriously, I loathe the entire end of the year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Actually, I’m not a fan of Hallowe’en either. Everything seems to devolve to people take-take-taking and then whining and complaining if what they took wasn’t up to par or if you didn’t buy the exact item they told you to buy them for “Christmas-Holiday- event-day-thingy”, or if their kid didn’t get YOU in the grab bag because you’re the “rich” relative, or if the food wasn’t specially designed to cater to their increasingly bizarre this-that-and-the-other-free-vegan-raw-foodie obsession.

      Bah, humbug. I hate people more and more each day. Everyone’s so damned precious and special you could puke. The end of the world can’t come soon enough, IMO. I’m leaving all my money to the St. Anthony Foundation. At least they’re happy people, even if they’re drug addicts and lunatics and unmedicated mentally ill and prostitutes.

      Merry freakin’ Christmas.

      • TheRealAaron

        Of course, if your religion precludes you from attending parties, but you’re allowed to go if you just call them another name, that’s not much of a religion. No Christmas, no holidays, no parties, but, sure, partake of the free food and giveaways as long as you give it a bland non-name. It’s an event. Held at the end of the year. And we get stuff. Whatever.

        Maybe they’re just going undercover!

        • Nina

          LOL! Undercover Brother’s got nuthin’ on them…
          Thanks. I’m having a crap day and I’m in a rotten mood. That helped a lot! :~)

  • vox borealis

    Of course, it could be argued that one of the reasons we live in an increasingly post-Christian world is because Christians have allowed themselves to be bullied into abandoning public reference to Christianity, like Christmas trees and saying Merry Christmas and the like. We can quibble over cause and effect, but anyone living in the post-modern age should be ready to admit that symbols (like saying Merry Christmas) both reflect culture and impart meaning on and shape culture at the same time. That’s a long-winded way of saying, if we want not to live a post-Christian world, it’s worth fighting just a little for little things like “Merry Christmas.”

    • Mark Shea

      And this would really matter, if I had suggested abandonment of Merry Christmas or capitulation of the public square. But I suggest neither of these things. I simply suggest being a *joyful* public witness to Christ instead of an angry one hectoring innocent people about their supposed complicity in a “war” on Christmas.

      • Glenn Jones

        Thank you. I can’t think of a better way of keeping Christ in Christmas than to be simply a joyful public witness to Christ. Enough said.

      • Erin

        Except that Gov Chafee isn’t “innocent people.” He’s a govt official actively trying to remove Christ from public perception. Seems valid to call it out.

    • kenneth

      Yes, nothing will advance Christian witness like a continent-sized chip on one’s shoulder and a hair trigger sense of insult from anyone who doesn’t remember or acknowledge your historic cultural hegemony as a birthright. I don’t know how the early missionaries ever closed a sale on conversion without the O’Reilly/Fox manufactured outrage industry.

      • vox borealis

        Yeah, that’s exactly what I implied.

  • I admit the whole ‘war on Christmas’ has passed its usefulness. Though the phrase was first coined, if I remember correctly, a few years ago in response to some retailers forbidding their employees from using the “Christmas” word. That, too, was over the mark, and people should have been upset. For me, I’m fine with whatever as long as everyone else if fine with whatever. But a person working at Walmart should feel just as comfortable saying ‘Merry Christmas’ as a person saying ‘Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings’. Tolerance and post-Christian multi-culture and multi-faith goes both ways. Plus, I wouldn’t want to appeal too strongly to ‘we’re in a post-Christian’ society as reasons to ignore things that might be bothersome, if not outright worrisome.

  • Geesh Mark, you forgot that made up holiday Kwanzaa. I’m sure someone will be offended.

    I’m offended now by Merry Christmas. Christmas time actually doesn’t begin until Christmas Day. If anything the correct greeting would be Happy Advent beginning Sunday, or maybe sundown Saturday. Then on Christmas Day begin with Merry Christmas. 🙂 That is if I really wanted to be a joyless curmudgeon. But that is rarely one of my many faults. So, Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to all, depending on your preference.

    • Michael in ArchDen

      I won’t turn on my Christmas lights until Christmas eve. My kids think I’m a grinch (and they’re almost certainly right) but I point out to them that the box doesn’t say “Advent Lights”!

      Maybe it’s a dumb thing (and not the first) but I find that my family needs all the reminders of the church’s teaching, and rejection of our culture’s teaching that I can give them.


    Electrodes in the water shock the fish
    A census of the river that flows past us
    Draw them up to see what’s living there

    Biologists alarmed by what was drawn
    Saw three snakeheads, each a meter long
    Predators, invaders from elsewhere

    Predaceous, they will eat whatever swims
    Anything with gills and lungs and fins
    And they can also move and breathe in air

    Listen then, a river runs below
    Concealing more than anybody knows
    And so we have no instinct to prepare

    Death itself will hunt the living Faith
    Until the church of God becomes a wraith
    Unless there is a unity of prayer

    Followers of Christ beneath one dome
    Be it church, cathedral, catacomb
    Will stand unmoved if only they will dare

    November 29, 2012

  • From today’s Divine Office:

    Canticle Apocalypse 11
    The Judgement
    Victory and empire have now been won by our God.
    We thank you,
    Lord God Almighty,
    who are and who were,
    that you have taken up your great power and begun to reign.
    The nations were angered,
    but your anger came, the time for the dead to be judged,
    the time to reward the prophets and saints, your servants,
    and those who feared your name, both great and small.
    Now have come the salvation and might and kingdom of our God,
    and the power of his Anointed,
    for the accuser of our brethren has been brought down,
    who accused them day and night in the sight of God.
    But they vanquished him through the blood of the Lamb
    and through their own witness.
    They did not cling to life,
    even in the face of death.
    Therefore rejoice, heavens,
    and you who dwell in them.
    Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
    as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
    world without end.

  • Meggan

    I don’t mind it at all when people in the stores or elsewhere wish me “Happy Holidays.” I’d find it to be strange if one of my fellow parishioners said it. But out in the secular world, the holiday that everyone is celebrating often resembles anything but a celebration of the Incarnation. Just a very minor example – I was in Kmart yesterday and decided to look for some wrapping paper. There wasn’t any that had a religious theme. Every single one was of the HO-HO-HO variety. There was even a Transformers “Christmas” wrapping paper. So if the store clerk can “Happy Holidays” away ’cause I don’t see Christ anywhere in the store anyway.

    • I was at our parish Christmas party one year, and everyone there kept saying “Happy Holidays” and it was the strangest thing ever. The party was in the basement of the Catholic Church – surely we can say “Christmas” there! But yes, a joyful witness always, especially during this holy time.

      • Rachel K

        There was a pretty huge kerfuffle at our parish a few years ago because our pastor decided to call our early November parish bazaar the “Holiday Bazaar” instead of the “Christmas Bazaar.” His intentions were good– he wasn’t comfortable calling it the “Christmas Bazaar” when we were a month away from Advent, let alone Christmas, and he didn’t want to seem like those retailers who roll out Christmas decorations the second Halloween is over or to generally commercialize Christmas–but hoo boy, the rage. It’s been the “Christmas Bazaar” ever since.

  • phil

    I can sympathize with the store clerk or someone else who says, “Happy Holidays”, but sometimes the way companies go about it it just ridiculous. Like there will be a commercial with Santa Claus in it, but it will still just refer to “this holiday”. Also, some places have “multicultural” displays with festivus polls. Do we really have to be so PC has to equate a joke from Seinfeld with Christmas?

  • Elaine S.

    The “holiday season” includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, Kwanzaa (so what if it was “made up” by one person; lots of other holidays, such as Mother’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, and Bosses Day, were “made up” by individuals or corporations), and possibly Epiphany. Since there are multiple holidays in play, what’s so wrong or inaccurate about saying “Happy Holidays”?

    I suggest that we simply apply common sense and charity and use whatever greeting seems appropriate to you. If I am talking to someone whose religious/cultural affiliation I do not know, and it is fairly early in the holiday season and I do not believe I will see them again before the end of the year, I will say “Enjoy your holidays!” If it’s within a few days of Christmas, I say “Merry Christmas.” But if I am addressing someone whom I know is not Christian or just doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I say “happy holidays.”

  • Linda Johnson

    There is one U.S. national holiday during the month of December, the only one sanctioned and authorized by the legislative process, that Holiday is the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th. It is not celebrated during Channuka, nor on the winter solstice (December 21st), nor during Kwanzaa (whenever that may be). Therefore it is already sanctioned by law to be in the public discourse and it is perfectly appropriate for people to wish each other a “Merry Christmas” regardless of your religious preferences. As individuals who personally know others who celebrate different religious events, it is appropriate for them to offer well wishes to them for their celebration. However, Merry Christmas is universal because the government made it a holiday for everyone in the nation it does not make everyone in the nation a Christ follower. It merely gives everyone a day off, enjoy the day everyone and “Merry Christmas.”

  • MI Will

    A nice post. I am almost to the point of wondering if you are Catholic and enjoying it! Thank you.

  • Alexander Anderson

    I hate when I get weird looks when I say to people “Merry Christmas” anytime after Christmas. It’s still Christmas season until Jan 6! Also, I really want to get a thing going where “He is risen”/”Truly He is risen!” is again a common Easter Season greeting.

  • Will

    Right! And the “war on Christmas” is really a war on ADVENT!

  • EBS

    Im going to get technical- but I have my reasons.
    I’ll say Merry Christmas by default. If the other person says to me I’m Jewish, then I’ll say Happy Hanukkah. I respect that. They adhere to their belief and I totally and utterly respect that.
    BUT, If the other person tells me they don’t celebrate Christmas, I tell them I do, and say Merry Christmas anyway.
    In other words, I hate Happy Holidays cause it’s stupid, and empty and Godless. I refuse to pander to mediocre empty godless brainless good cheer. I’m not 5 years old anymore for goodness sake.
    Cause, as a previous commenter said, If the country you live in is a Christian country, as is my country Australia is, as is America, and our governments chose to make it a public holiday on 25th December (the recognized day of Christ birth day), recognizing that it is Christmas- then IT IS CHRISTMAS. Period. Not a bloody holiday day.

  • Susan D.

    I’ve never been troubled by people using the “Happy Holidays” greeting. After all, “holiday” means “Holy Day.”

    But I do think that “Season’s Greetings” sounds unpleasant, perfunctory, and insincere.

    • EBS

      Interesting. Susan. Maybe its a culture thing. See, I don’t mind Seasons Greetings on a Christmas Card because to me it is still acknowledging the Season of Advent and the approach of Christmas. But nobody I have come across ever says to me in the Supermarket “Seasons Greetings”. How camp! Haha.
      But Happy Holidays seems superficial and doesn’t stand for anything except a day off work (the “Holy” Days derivative you mention is certainly lost in the 21st Century). Again, technical but there are my reasons.

      • Susan D.

        I think of the word “Holiday” as being a bit subversive. A word doesn’t lose its meaning just because its roots aren’t immediately recognized. Say “Happy Holidays” can also be seen as giving a blessing in disguise.

  • D.C.

    Is that Bill O’Reilly?