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I am also just as convinced that businesses shouldn't be forced to say "Merry Christmas" at all (puzzled gasps and snorts of outrage from the crowd).
How can I hold such seemingly contradictory opinions? The answer is simple: here in America, there are three Christmases. At times they are distinct and at times they overlap, but if you understand these three, it helps bring some focus on the issue of proper greetings.
The three Christmases are as follows:
- Trappings Christmas
- Secular Christmas
- True Christmas
The first "Christmas" is not really Christmas at all, but the vestiges of some pagan celebrations. Many of the trappings of Christmas have a distinctly non-Christian origin. If you don't believe me, either google things like "yule logs," "mistletoe," or even "December 25." Or ask a Jehovah's Witness or even certain Christian ministers and they will tell you the origins of all these things and why, therefore, you should not celebrate Christmas (or Easter, for that matter).
I don't agree with the whole "Christmas is pagan; therefore, we should not celebrate it" argument. For one thing, the original meaning of many of these trappings has been lost in antiquity (do you anybody who seriously bows down and worships their Christmas tree?). For another thing, many of the trappings have been "re-purposed" in meaning (tree points upward to the one true God, lights remind us of the Light of the world, evergreen calls to mind the eternal life He gives us, and so on). While these can be wonderful parts of the season, they are not the essence of Christmas.
The second Christmas, the secular kind, is especially prevalent in the United States. This is the season of giving, the season of spending time with loved ones, the season of joy, yeah, even the season of peace of earth and good will toward man. It is also the season of festive parties, raucous music, glittering lights, and unbelievable consumerism. When people say, "Christmas has become too materialistic," they are referring to the secular Christmas.
Here we get to the crux of my split feelings on the phrase "Merry Christmas." To begin with, let's get our annual reminder out of the way: the phrase "Happy Holidays" is nothing new, nor was it invented to try to undermine the Christian faith. If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen times: the poor clerk who wished you "Happy Holidays" is NOT the enemy. Don't be snide or snotty about it, just smile, say "thank you" and "Merry Christmas," and be on your way.
Now I happen to think that the retail expression "Happy Holidays" is silly. Think about it: Stores employ Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas decorations, and pipe in Christmas music, in hopes that people will buy a bunch of Christmas presents in preparation for Christmas day. Nobody is fooled by "Seasons Greetings." If someone is truly, deeply offended by Christmas, the huge Christmas tree at the entrance of the store cannot magically be transformed into a "holiday tree."
So my advice to retailers is: just say "Merry Christmas." (and the crowd goes wild!)
And that brings us to the third Christmas: the commemoration of the birth of Jesus. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the price for your sins and mine, then three days later rose bodily from the grave, so that by trusting Him as our Lord and Savior, we can have everlasting life and a day-to-day relationship with Him. (try fitting that on a Christmas card!)
I believe that to be true. I have a lot of reasons for believing it to be true. It is at once a story simply told and a profound statement of deep personal faith and resounding theology. When I say "Merry Christmas," I'm making a declaration of faith (whether the other guy is aware of it or not). And I believe this depth of faith is one of the reasons why Christians get so worked up over "Happy Holidays." It's somehow replacing something meaningful in our lives with something that is almost frivolous. I get that.
But let's think for a second: if a retailer says, "Merry Christmas," there is a real possibility they are acknowledging the secular, consumer driven holiday and not the historical truth of the birth of Christ. My reasons for saying "Merry Christmas" are different than their reasons for saying, "Merry Christmas." And unless the clerk or manager or CEO wants to make that personal statement of faith in the One whose birth we are celebrating, I'd just as soon they either stick to "Happy Holidays" or give me a few minutes to introduce them to Him (a hush falls on the crowd).
There are so many fronts to the battle. Personally, I do not believe the banner a store hangs in its window or the greeting the clerks are instructed to give people is a front upon which I want to fight.
You don't have to agree or disagree with me today. Just think about it.