The reason for the season

Maybe it’s just me, but all the fuss about there being a War on Christmas doesn’t seem very much in the spirit of what the holiday is all about.

I mean, I get the whole War on Christmas idea, to a point. I understand that some Christians object to what they see as the secularization of Christmas. But there are other faiths, too, many of which have observations in December, and they should be respected equally. Christians are welcome to make their own Christmas celebration as religious as they choose.

But we’re not all going to feel the same way. And, frankly, the fact that anyone would think I’m waging war on their faith by saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” seems more hostile to me than my well-intentioned good wishes. I guess that’s why the idea of people fighting about Christmas perplexes me. I just can’t reconcile the idea of the War on Christmas with the meaning of the holiday.

The reason for the season

I grew up Episcopalian and am now a Buddhist who is more philosophical than religious. My boyfriend is Catholic, and I have friends and colleagues who are Jewish, Baptist, Muslim, Hindu, atheist — you name it. I honor their beliefs equally.

My little world isn’t any different from our larger world. And in a country that was founded in part to allow religious freedom, why is it so difficult for us to honor everyone’s faith equally? (I could easily veer off here into a discussion about separation of church and state. Instead, suffice to say I recognize its relevance to this topic but my point is about what’s in our hearts rather than what’s displayed on city property.)

I know Christians who will always say “Merry Christmas” instead of “happy holidays,” and I respect that they want the celebration of their faith recognized. But I can’t help but think of my Jewish friends who are frustrated by the number of people who ask, “What does that holiday mean? And Jews still celebrate Thanksgiving, right?” At least Buddhists can point to the Dalai Lama and say, “That,” but otherwise people don’t really get it a lot of the time.

The reason for the seasonThat doesn’t offend me. If someone asks, I’ll explain my beliefs. It’s good that we learn about each other’s faiths, especially since they share many common principles. I’ve learned more about Catholicism since I started dating Joe Quincy — in fact, conversations with him helped shape this post and inspired its title.

It’s good that we share traditions and celebrate together, as far as our own faith allows. Celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah doesn’t impugn my Buddhist philosophy. It’s a time to share joy with the people I love. Buddhists value that, just as Christians and Muslims and people of all faiths do.

I guess that’s where I find myself so frustrated by the idea of the War on Christmas. To me, the whole point is to celebrate the ideal of “goodwill toward all men” — not just those we love, but those we work with or meet on the street. All men and women, whether we agree with them or not.

The reason for the seasonWhen people wish me a Merry Christmas, I don’t get prickly about it. I wish them the same in return, because if I didn’t already I now know they’re Christian. I offer glad tidings in the person’s faith if I know it, and I think “happy holidays” is a fine way to wish each other well, too. It honors every faith or simply a festive season for non-believers.

The many holidays celebrated in December (some with pagan origins, let’s not forget) are an opportunity to come together, to express gratitude, to experience the comfort and joy of family and friends. It’s a time to be good to each other.

The way I see it, we could stand to find more time to be good to each other. Every day, not just a few days a year. So whatever words you use, say something nice. And celebrate when someone says something nice to you, however they say it.

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10 thoughts on “The reason for the season

  1. Marti says:

    This is a great piece, and an excellent reminder, especially for those people who seem to be out looking for offense. Christianity may be the dominant religion in this country, but it’s far from the only one, and even Christians don’t all agree on what it means to be one. In my experience, very few of the people who make a lot of noise about being Christians behave in a way that emulates Christ. They certainly have no room to judge others.

    Christmas, if you celebrate it, is a personal thing. No one person or group of people has the right to tell others how they ought to be celebrating or greeting one another. And for politicians to use this holiday, and to paraphrase President George W. Bush, to hijack an entire religion to make points against their enemies and to win over religious constituents is just utterly low.

    Thank you for this spark of common sense in the haze of crazy.

    • Thank you, Marti, for your kind comments – and for raising some excellent points. In particular, the fact that some politicians use religion as a weapon upsets me greatly. I could have written an entire post about that and maybe I still will … after the holidays. Ha. I especially appreciate your closing comment, both as a compliment and a great choice of words. Thanks for always adding your thoughts to my posts. I hope it will encourage others to do the same.

  2. Isn’t it odd to think that the theme of A Charlie Brown Christmas, a show created in the 1960’s, about how the meaning of Christmas is being lost, is still relevant? Of course, that show was Christian-centric, admonishing the people who were supposed to be celebrating the holiday for their commercialization of it, completely swallowing up the whole idea of celebrating the birth of their savior.

    There is no “war” on Christmas. If Christmas is being harmed, it is a self-inflicted wound, caused by the very people who claim to be fighting the “war.” The idea that the holiday is sacrosanct and inviolate is just an extension of the guilt many Christians feel at having lost touch with the true meaning of the holiday. It’s far easier to blame that on “secularization” than to look in the mirror and realize they are paying lip-service to the ideas of Jesus Christ. Secretly, in their heart-of-hearts, they are aware of their hypocrisy, but they salve their consciences by making the loss of meaning at Christmas “someone else’s fault.” We won’t even get into the fact that the date is arbitrary, and many of the traditions of the holiday have nothing to do with Jesus’ birth.

    Paraphrasing Charlie Brown, I’m not going to let this artificial “war on Christmas” ruin my holiday! Happy Holidays!

    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment that raises yet more points to consider. I think we could all do well to emulate Charlie Brown, looking for the true meaning of our faith – whatever it may be.

  3. Theo Nijkerk says:

    Excellent post again, Elsie! It shouldn’t matter, if I say “Prettige Feestdagen” (Happy Holidays) or “Prettige Kerstdagen” (Merry Christmas). In Dutch the pratical distinction is you say the first when you expect to see the people you grant the wish not until after New Year’s. If you see them in between Christmas and New Year’s you say the second. I’m an Atheist, although raised a protestant. I don’t mind when people wish me Merry Christmas. It is the wish itself that counts, not the exact wording.
    What I can’t believe is that the GOP has pulled it into their campaing. A bit cheap in my opinion. Freedom of religion means that you can practice your beliefs the way you want as long as it’s withing the scope of the law. There was a piece of beautiful televisoon on the other day, where a moslim man first recited from Koran to point out a passage in the Bible.
    As you mentioned, the are so many common grounds betweens the various religions.

    • Thanks so much, Theo. It’s interesting to hear how holiday greetings are addressed in other countries. I agree it’s a shame anyone would politicize any holiday. But I love the idea of the TV program you mentioned, expressing shared values and tolerance for all. I wish you pleasant holidays and a happy New Year!

  4. Angela L says:

    First I should say, I too, loved your post. Well written and sincere, it expresses the disconnect between the holiday season and the sentiments of those decrying a “War on Christmas.” As a lapsed Catholic to Jewish convert (30 years and counting), I learned a lot about suddenly being the “other” while raising my daughters in the Jewish faith. People were well meaning with their Christmas wishes, and I never resented them tho occasionally I felt compelled to let them know we were Jewish when my daughter’s puzzled little faces tugged at my heartstrings. I wish the “War on Christmas” was a sincere representation of a struggle waged by modern Christians to recapture their faith and beliefs in a modern and secular world. But I don’t believe it is anything more than a repugnant and concerted attempt to demean and minimize anyone who isn’t a Christian. It’s an intentional campaign to discern and demean anyone who is “other” in their “Christian” country, and it goes against everything this country is based on.

    What you point out is obvious. The cries of these people run contrary to the meaning of the holidays as any of us understands them. There is no explanation other than they have an ulterior motive, and those who aren’t thinking it through are being manipulated by the few to turn back the clock to years past and revive the prejudices and fears history had moved us all beyond.

    The American tradition of Christmas through New Year’s is much like the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashana is a time of celebrating and “thanksgiving” – at the end of which we take stock, making resolutions on Yom Kippur to be better people for ourselves and our g-d. Americans close each calendar year reminding ourselves that in this melting pot of cultures, we are more alike than different. We all love our children equally and want for them to have lives better than ours. We see hunger and wish to end it, we see abject poverty and wish to correct it, each in our own way wishing the less fortunate warm and clothed. The shared humanity in all of us is what Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and Moses all saw and tried to express in various religious concepts. Shouldn’t it be about perfecting ourselves before we tell others how they can be more perfect? The fact that any political goal would be to turn those sentiments into lip service against those who express these sentiments differently is heartbreaking. So reading your post was a nice gift. Holiday, Christmas, otherwise. No matter.

    • Thank you for your kind words about my post, Angela, and for taking the time to write such a passionate response. Although it makes me sad that some people oppose any faith other than their own, I know it’s true. But I value people like you who are willing to turn the other cheek (to use a Christian concept) and, even more important, to help educate others about your faith and how we can all be more tolerant. Very much appreciated!

  5. I never understood why people would say “Merry Christmas” on days other than December 24 & 25th. I wouldn’t say “Happy Thanksgiving” on any other day then the 4th Thursday of November. Nor would I say “Happy Easter” on any other day then Easter Sunday. That is the reason why I like to use the phrase “Happy Holidays” during the month of December because there are so many holidays. it is really strange to me that SOME people get so offended by that phrase. I think to myself, ‘hmmmm not really the holiday spirit I see’.

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

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