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 …


8 thoughts on “Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays-Part 1”

  1. here’s just a thought as believers if God wanted us to celebrate his birth. why was it not recorded in the scripture ? History of Christian Christmas originates from the time when the celebration took on a Christian observance. The History of Christian Christmas does not have any records about the celebration of Christmas by the early Christian churches. Only the Christians pursued the Roman Pagan Festival or Saturnalia in order to avoid persecution by the Romans.

    The popularity of Christmas was spurred during the 1800s. In 1834 Prince Albert the husband of Queen Victoria introduced the custom of Christmas trees and carols from Germany. The Christian churches felt the importance of Christmas celebration from then. In the early days carols were barred from the premises of the church, as it was again referred to as non-Christian. Simple folks or nativity carols were performed outside the church. It was St. Francis who actually brought carols into the formal worship of the church.

    According to some legends referred to in the History of Christian Christmas the Christian Christmas celebration was invented to compete against the early Pagan winter festivals. The Romans not only observed 25th of December as the birthday of their Sun god. The Jewish Festival of Lights or Hanukkah, The Yule Festival by the Norse, The Birthday festival of Lord Mithra by the Romans also commenced on the same day. The church became successful in taking the merriment, light and gifts from these festivals.
    my after thought would be why do we still eat the food sacrificed to idels

  2. Hi Jason, you raise some good points. Here’s a partial response.

    Response #1 – we are not commanded in the New Testament to commemorate ANY of the great events of Jesus’ life except his death (in the Lord’s supper) yet we are not forbidden to commemorate them either. We aren’t commanded to observe Lord’s Day worship in the New Testament, but we see that the first believers began worshipping on the Lord’s day almost immediately after Christ rose. My point is that there can be many occasions for worship and celebration which are not specifically commanded but are not forbidden either, and many be very beneficial as long as they point us to Jesus. It is clear from the gospels of Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied by Micah, and that this event was the beginning of a new era of salvation. We don’t know exactly at what time of year this happened, so it can be celebrated in midwinter as well as at any other time. In some ways midwinter (symbolically) is actually a very appropriate time to celebrate the coming of the Light into our world

    Response #2 – it is true that the pagans had a celebration at the midwinter solstice but that doesn’t mean Christ-followers shouldn’t celebrate Yeshua’s birth at the same time. Again one could make the case that since all pagan celebrations and rituals are in some sense an inadequate attempt to reach out to God (a reflection of man’s inherently religious nature) it’s better for Christ followers to give them a redeemed picture of what they really ought to be worshipping.

    Response #3 – I do agree with you that our celebrations of both Christ’s birth and resurrection have been corrupted by many pagan elements. I actually don’t have a problem with Christmas trees even though they were originally used by pagans to refer to renewal of life, since symbols are very fluid and the same symbol can mean different things in different cultures. But if we are going to have Christmas trees in Christian homes we need to understand that for us the green tree points to the one Tree of Life, Jesus who came so that we might have eternal life. (why let the pagans corrupt God’s good gifts – like a green tree – by misrepresenting their meaning, then say that we now can’t use those same gifts to remind us of our Creator and Redeemer?) I do agree though that many completely pagan elements – like kissing under the mistletoe, totally a pagan fertility rite – have crept into Christmas celebrations – not to mention commercialism that totally shifts the focus of the season for many people. Still, since Jesus clearly was born and this is an event worth celebrating, on balance I believe it is better to make use of the cultural observance of Christmas as an opportunity to point to Jesus, than to reject it entirely.

  3. very cool never looked at it that way. now my struggle for truth has brought me to the cool website on that and I have herd from others as well the Jesus would have been born in September,October because the birth of John is a key to knowing, Chuck Missler stated that if John was born on passover which he thought would have been pretty cool, that would have put the birth of Christ on September 24th. for coming from a practicing Wicca then in 1999 I became born again I have connection of such pagan rituals and now a days I really loath such practices I feel it some times when people worship to Idles it’s like a “disturbance in the force” lol this is the main reason for me leaving the institutional church. and the book Pagan Christianity? pointed these practices that where once worshiped to pagan gods now became practices in the christian church. I literary feel it the spiritual consequence with it. I need to get out I could not handle it any longer.

  4. I understand, and I have no problem at all with someone deciding that they need to completely break with all traces of their pre-Christian past. At one point I got rid of the book Lord of the Rings because it includes references to wizards – I now see it as a classic story of good and evil, and think it is highly valuable although not explicitly Christian. God will lead each of us differently on some of these things. Its true that there has been much blending of certain pre-Christian practices and it’s good to be aware of this – e.g. one event that I will have NOTHING to do with is hallowe’en because to me it is clearly totally pagan in its origins with no redemptive features whatsoever – but with Christmas and Easter (I prefer the term Resurrection Day because the word Easter is actually derived from the name of an Egyptian goddess) there IS a valid event in the life of Christ that we can celebrate, so I prefer to focus on that … and sort of “go along with” the parts of the trappings that are fairly harmless, while rejecting those that are clearly contrary to the gospel and can’t be reinterpreted. One advantage of not completely rejecting the festival of Christmas is that I can use it as a platform to speak about Christ to the non-believing secular culture.

    Thanks for sharing your views. I respect where you are coming from. In the end it is Yeshua who saves us – we’re not saved by observing festivals or damned if we don’t observe them (Colossians 2:16-17)

  5. MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and your family. Thanks for the food for thought. What I liked about what you wrote was your honesty about not only your religion but all religions… they all had or still have a dark secrets that they would rather not talk about. But like you said they all need to ask forgiveness.

    We are all human and we all make mistakes saying sorry or asking forgiveness is not a weakness but a strength because it takes a strong person to admit that he was wrong or made a mistake.

    I’m glad to have read you post. Thanks again. 🙂

    Rob 🙂

  6. Thanks Rob. I’m glad you liked it. I appreciate your response.

    You’re right, it is true that it takes courage to ask for forgiveness when we have been wrong, and this is always better than covering up the truth. However, I hope it’s clear to all my readers that apologizing for the historic mistakes of institutional Christianity is one thing, apologizing for Jesus is something else again. I do not think Christ-followers should EVER ask forgiveness for presenting Jesus as the only Saviour and hope of the world. We do need to be willing to seek forgiveness, however, when we have represented Him badly.

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