It’s time for a Christmas War ceasefire
As far as I can tell, the so-called “War on Christmas” was invented by conservative pundits who needed something new to get offended about (and who seem to like the way the word “war” rolls around on their tongues). Before that time, a typical interfaith street-corner conversation may have gone something like this:
Christian Person: Merry Christmas!
Jewish Person: And a Happy Hanukkah to you! *wink*
Christian Person: Oh, yes, of course, thank you!
Both: *good-natured chuckles and slaps on the shoulder*
However, nowadays, Bill O’Reilly and his ilk would have us believe that a typical conversation might instead go like this:
Christian Person: Merry Christmas!
Non-Christian Person: *sucker punch to the kidneys*
Therefore, this line of reasoning continues, we now regularly have the gutless watered-down version of this conversation instead, which goes something like this:
Person of Indeterminate Faith #1: Happy, uh… seasonal… celebration time to you!
Person of Indeterminate Faith #2: Oh, yes! Same to you. Enjoy your, uh… paid vacation days. Is that a Santa Claus pin?
Person of Indeterminate Faith #1: *claps hand over lapel* What? No, no. Just a bauble. Entirely meaningless. *laughs nervously and tiptoes backwards around the corner*
And of course, now that Bill and his buddies have whipped the steadfastly-Christmas-celebrating public into a frenzy, they are admonished to stand up for their God-given right! To say! Merry Christmas!:
Person of Indeterminate Faith: Happy Holidays!
Christian Person: *left hook to the cheekbone*
This is all very silly, of course, and it has to stop. Christmas is stressful enough with its crowded shopping malls and old-fashioned-style figgy pudding recipes and last-minute midnight trips to the 7-Eleven for rolls of Scotch tape. We don’t need people beating each other up in the streets over the forms of social courtesies they have chosen to employ.
A couple of points to consider:
There is nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas” to a non-Christmas participant. When I was in Nepal during their busiest holiday season, it is very unlikely anybody mistook pasty-white, red-headed me for a Hindu. Yet many people wished me “Happy Tihar” and “Happy Dipawali” and gave me flower necklaces and put red smudges on my forehead. The world did not come shattering down around my ears, and my identity as a Christmas-celebrating Westerner was not compromised. Being wished a happy Tihar did not in any way diminish my enjoyment of Christmas the following December. Why should the reverse be any different?
Likewise, there is nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” to a Christmas participant. I’m quite certain both expressions were around long before anybody decided to get butthurt about them. I don’t think Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were worried about alienating those who would prefer to celebrate Kwanzaa. I’m pretty sure, in fact, that both greetings were originally coined as an alternative to running out of breath when you want to tell people to “have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and hey, while I’m at it, I hope you get some really sweet deals on the latest electronics during Boxing Week, too”. And if people now want to expand these greetings to include Ramadan, Yalda, Pancha Ganabati and Festivus, why shouldn’t they?
It’s all really quite simple. There’s really only one thing you need to remember. When somebody offers you cheerful and heartfelt well-wishes for merriment and joy, this is not an opportunity to become morally offended. The appropriate response is to smile, say thank you, and reply with whatever seasonal greeting works best for you.