Every December the angry debate rages again. Should we wish others a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? Popular rhetoric sets this issue up as a battle between Religious Freedom vs. Political Correctness and claims that Christmas is under attack. Why is this such a hot-button issue? Have we thought it through? If you are trying to figure this out, here are some ideas to consider.
It’s important to note that the word holiday is derived from holy day. The Oxford dictionary says the word holiday comes from the Old English hāligdæg. So, when you say Happy Holidays you are really wishing the other person happy holy days.
In the posts I have seen about “the war on Christmas,” the writer’s attitude is pretty much, “too bad if we give offense, wishing others a Merry Christmas is an American tradition and our right – part of our freedom of religion.” Actually, for more than one hundred years of American history, Christmas was not celebrated, so it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that saying Merry Christmas is an old American tradition. The best American tradition, based on our nation’s founding documents is to protect and honor the religious beliefs of all our citizens. The issue is not about our right to express our own beliefs, but our deeper Christian obligation to be sensitive and loving to all our brothers and sisters of every faith.
With this in mind let’s think about when we should say Merry Christmas and when should we say Happy Holidays.
Obviously, it is perfectly appropriate to wish someone we know is Christian a Merry Christmas. I am sure that most of us wish our Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah. But . . . what if we know that the person we are speaking to is not Christian, or we don’t know what, if any, religious tradition they are part of. Should we say Merry Christmas? In these cases, wouldn’t it be more sensitive and more loving to wish them Happy Holy Days, by saying Happy Holidays?
This year at Our Lady of Calvary we are reflecting on peacemaking. We are praying,
“Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love.”
This Christmas let’s try not to get caught up in belligerent debates over words. Instead, let’s try to be bearers of the peace Christmas promises.
Sister Mary Ann Strain, CP