Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays-Part 1
It has become increasingly common in our society, in the name of inclusiveness, to eliminate all references to Christianity when referring to the Christmas season. So, “Merry Christmas” is replaced by “Happy Holidays”, a “Christmas tree” becomes a “holiday tree”, and so forth.
This is not a new trend. Over fifteen years ago, before Marion and I began home schooling our children, I remember a Christmas concert at our local public school in which all the so-called “carols” were secular winter songs – Frosty the Snowman, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, and the like. Having spent my early childhood in Northern Quebec, I love snowy winter scenes, and have nothing against Frosty — but these are not Christmas carols. Not a single song included any reference to Jesus. This particular school had a sizeable Muslim minority, and no doubt the concert was secularized for reasons of inclusiveness and to avoid controversy. However, one could make the case that in neighbourhoods with a high concentration of immigrants, a public school would be making a constructive contribution to mutual understanding by introducing immigrants to the cultural heritage of the land to which they have made their new home. That cultural heritage includes the celebration of Christmas, complete with its attendant Christian content.
Let me be clear. As a committed follower of Christ, I am grateful to live in a country that welcomes people from all cultures, a country that practices hospitality, generosity and respect towards newcomers. Welcoming those from other nations and cultures, and treating them kindly, is an expression of Biblical values. In fact, I would argue that if anything, we sometimes don’t do this well enough. I would also argue that our nation’s commitment to hospitality, generosity and respect, as well as the many other positive values that have caused Canada to be seen by so many as a desirable place to live, are largely due to the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ on our cultural values.
To our shame, there have undeniably been dark episodes in the history of the institutional church in Canada as elsewhere. The sad saga of church-run residential schools for First Nations peoples, with the stated goal of eradicating their culture and language, is one humbling and sobering example of how wrong we can be sometimes. Similarly, in the medieval era many tried to justify the Crusades, but Christians today almost universally recognize that the Crusades are a blot on Christian history and a total contradiction of the message and example of Jesus Christ. Christians who deal honestly with the example and teaching of Jesus can offer no justification when such past atrocities are exposed, and can only admit the truth, humbly acknowledge the failings of past generations, and ask God for the grace to be a faithful representation of Christ’s true nature in our own generation. The willingness of contemporary church leaders to publicly acknowledge historic wrongs, and seek forgiveness from representatives of those who were wronged, demonstrates the great capacity of Christianity for self-correction based on the example of Jesus and the message of our founding Scriptures, with their emphasis on justice, mercy, humility, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
For these and other reasons, it is no accident that in large measure it is the nations with a Christian history in which science, democracy and human rights have flourished. Ironically, while many in Canada are rejecting their Christian heritage, Africans and Asians are turning to Christ in growing numbers because the gospel of Jesus promises freedom and hope. Even in Communist China, as chronicled in this June 2008 article in the Chicago Tribune, intellectuals and Communist Party leaders are becoming increasingly open to Christianity, recognizing that it provides a much-needed moral foundation for their nation. Why we in Canada should apologize for this heritage is beyond me.
So – in case you were still wondering – no, I do not think that the expression “Merry Christmas”, with its implicit reference to Christ, should be seen as offensive to non-Christians, nor that it should be replaced by “Happy Holidays”. Only in the democratic West would such a view even be given serious consideration. No-one expects Muslim nations to apologize to non-Muslim residents for celebrating Ramadan, the state of Israel to apologize for observing the Sabbath, or India to apologize to immigrants for the observance of various Hindu festivals. The celebration of the coming of Christ into our world is an aspect of the cultural heritage of Canada and there is no need to apologize for calling it by its proper name.
However, having beaten that drum long enough, I’d like to shift focus and suggest to the Christians among my readers that if someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”, you don’t need to give the Devil any pleasure by getting annoyed or grumpy about it. In Part 2 of this post, I hope to show you that when someone wishes you “Happy Holidays”, they are probably saying much more than they realize! The expression “Happy Holidays”, correctly understood, is actually not a shallow, empty, secular substitute for “Merry Christmas”, but a very meaningful greeting that conveys a powerful truth.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now let me sign off with a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” – or was that “Happy Holidays”? Check Part 2 of this post to see what both expressions really mean …