These days when I am around my Christian friends I say "Merry Christmas"; since I am a theology student (a.k.a. theology geek) I was also saying "Happy Advent" but that's another story. When I am around my Non-Christian friends (including followers of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, along with Non-Theists, Pagans, and others) I say "Happy Holidays". And when I go out to a store or I speak to a stranger, I say "Happy Holidays". Then I started to realize that so far, not one person has attempted to correct me...again, so far.
I was thinking about this since I have been trying to understand (from a Christian point of view) the so-called "War on Christmas". You may have heard for example that some stores use "Happy Holidays" (for their decorations and/or how their employees may greet their customers) and other stores use "Merry Christmas". Also, you may have heard that some cities are reevaluating the use of certain symbols and/or displays. Like I said before, I have not been "corrected" so far in my use of both "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays". Now, that does not mean that I have not heard complaints from friends on both sides regarding the 'other side'. Some of my Christian friends complain that "Christ is being taken out of Christmas" and some of my Non-Christian friends complain that they don't believe in Christ in the first place and "should not be forced to participate in this".
First, I will present my biggest joy and complaint regarding this situation from my point of view and personal experience this last month:
1) This last month (like many people around the country and the world in different degrees) I have experienced moments of pain and suffering along with moments of great joy and happiness. When a person tells me "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" regardless of my emotional state I still say and will continue to say "Thank you". When I am happy and someone greets me in a similar fashion, I welcome what I think is a genuine attempt at a connection from a stranger even if only for a few seconds; when I am sad this doesn't change. In fact, when I am sad I am even more thankful of this. The beautiful quote from St. Ambrose goes like this: "No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks."
2) I could care less if Wal-Mart or any other store does not say "Merry Christmas". Let's say I go to a store this Sunday (yes Sunday, think about it) to buy a massive big screen TV (let us suppose that I have the proper amount of real money to do so and not monopoly money) that I saw "for sale" because I told myself "30% off! YES!!!". I find it, I tell the nearest employee "I'll take it"and we go to the cash register. To complete the rite...sorry, to complete the transaction I give my credit card, it gets swiped, and the TV is now mine. As I give the signed credit card receipt to the cashier he/she says "Merry Christmas". So there, I bought a TV that let's be honest, I don't need...but, the cashier said "Merry Christmas" and I will be honoring Christ even after the celebration of his birth is over by making payments on my credit card...very Christian.
But, if that same employee would tell me "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", would this be part of the "War on Christmas"? If I was leaving the store and I saw a plastic figure of the child Jesus that was part of an equally plastic and multicolor nativity scene tell me "how wonderful that this store is honoring the birth of Christ"...as I was going to my car with my new TV?
As a Christian, I remember that Christ was more concerned about how people treated each other and specially how we treated those in need ("Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me"). Does ending the purchase of a TV with "Merry Christmas" make this a more Christian act or an act worthy of being a disciple of Christ in the love that we show for one another, as found in the Gospel according to John 13:34-35?
Or, was it a more Christian act (even if it was not the conscious intent to do a "Christian" act) when several Non-Christian friends were there for me with both their words AND their open hearts when I was sad..when Christian friends, Christian priests and pastors, and members of my family helped me and helped the people that I love during moments of need...I can think of at least 10 examples of this love during the last two weeks. Sometimes the acts of love were offered without reserve when I asked and sometimes they were offered without me asking for them in the first place.
My dear reader, if you are a Christian, remember the following words: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." If we remember this first and we love each other even in happy silence, Christmas is here every day without the use of words and Christ smiles every day, because you and I will be able to smile every day in love. It is love that both our Christian and Non-Christian brothers and sisters can share with one another every day.
Remember my dear reader: at some point the stores will be removing the Christmas decorations, lights, symbols, etc, and will soon be replacing them with the next "appropriate" decorations to sell you and me more stuff. Decorations, lights, and even cool TV's are eventually replaced and end up in a storage room or a dumpster. And even the parts and pieces of a Nativity scene can meet the same fate. But while the celebration of Christmas will come again next year and we will once again be able to find the best deal, you and I are here in this world (today! now!) crying, smiling, and living.