What is your feeling on the debate of saying Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays? The phrase “Happy Holidays” seems to be an affront to many. I have heard it referred to as “an attack on Christmas and our Christian values” when people use this seemingly innocuous phrase. But is it really? That’s what I wondered and so I began to research just where that phrase came from… Here’s what I found…
Happy Holidays as a phrase seems to have started popping up in the late 1800s… here in America anyway. From what I could find – it never seemed to be a replacement for Merry Christmas at all… rather primarily as a grouping of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years… and primarily for businesses advertising sales or specials towards the end of the year. From what I could find – there was no insidious group of dastardly atheists pulling strings anywhere to try and get rid of Christmas. Maybe over time, some people who choose to not celebrate Christmas may have embraced the more generic term – but again there weren’t any pamphlets or literature I could find that pointed to the plan to delete Merry Christmas from the english language. So how did Happy Holidays turn into a “proclaimed” war on Christmas? The best that I can determine is that we, Christians, turned it into one.
I think that historically we have tended to be very defensive about our faith. We want to make sure that no one tries to defile God and Jesus. Maybe there is a collective feeling that if we don’t fight to keep “Christ” on the lips of every person who has the ability to speak that we are somehow conceding something to the enemy. That if we aren’t strong and courageous and tenacious in defending the name of Jesus, that we are weak and timid and afraid. I don’t feel that way. I think it comes down more to whether or not we want to force people to utter the name of Jesus (i.e. the Christ in Christmas) or introduce them to a relationship with Him.
I was in line at the grocery store this past week and the cashier said “Happy Holidays” to the woman in front of me. This “lady” practically bit the cashier’s head off over it. She said, “I don’t respond to Happy Holidays. I only respond to Merry Christmas,” and that was the end of their conversation. The cashier was very embarrassed and the angry lady never said another word to her. When it was my turn to check out I noticed the cashier didn’t offer any kind of “Holiday” greeting… she just asked for my rewards card. I chatted with her as she rang up the groceries and then when she handed me the receipt, I said, “I hope you have a great weekend… Happy Holidays,” and I smiled. She let out a little laugh and replied back very quietly, “Merry Christmas,” with a huge grin. It was a great moment really… I’m assuming the store didn’t have a policy about saying Merry Christmas, otherwise I don’t think she would have risked that… I think when she said “Happy Holidays” to that woman, she was just being polite. She was just saying, “hello.” I wonder if the angry woman gets mad if when she sneezes someone simply says, “Bless You” or heaven forbid, “gesundheit” vs. saying “God Bless You.” Her voice was hateful enough that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she does get angry over pretty much everything.
Here’s the thing about my grocery store “Happy Holiday” experience. Regardless of what that cashier said, whether it was Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or Happy Kwanzaa, she wasn’t trying to delete Christmas or diminish it at all. She was just being polite. But even if that is her secret agenda, to diminish Christmas and every night she goes home and laughs maniacally over how many times she got to diminish Jesus’ Birthday that day… I’ll let you in on a little secret… She can’t do it! She can’t diminish Christmas at all! When we choose to fight the world over the phrase Merry Christmas, we are in fact the ones diminishing it. At best, we come across as petty. At worst, we come across as defensive and bitter. I believe the woman in front of me at the grocery believes she is a tireless and courageous defender of her Christian faith. I wish there was some way to explain to her how much damage she is actually doing to her witness every time she utters that diatribe she has so obviously rehearsed and readied for a stinging delivery. I don’t know what the cashier’s personal faith (if any) is/was… But I can 100% guarantee she didn’t experience Jesus in that moment. Maybe you would argue she didn’t experience it with me either since I said the secular “Happy Holidays” phrase to her… but I bet that if the next time I go to that grocery, I look for her register and wait in her line, she won’t dread my presence like she would the “I only respond to MERRY CHRISTMAS YOU LITTLE IDIOT” lady… and I believe that is worth a lot.
Now just so you know, I say Merry Christmas 99.99999% of the time. If someone stopped me and said, “hey, don’t say that to me… I don’t celebrate Christmas,” I’d apologize to them. Not because I’m ashamed of Christmas or because I feel it’s rude to say Merry Christmas… but because I want every opportunity to show people love over defending my right to say a phrase.
Listen to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I can imagine there were times in those situations where Paul had to practically bite his tongue off from telling people off… but he did hold his attacks and defense and justifications because he knew the power of being loving and understanding … he knew that it would speak so much louder than anything else he could do. I’m pretty sure he learned that from Jesus.
So I pray that all of you have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy very happy holidays! May God bless and keep you all!
Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.