Why I am OK with “Happy Holidays”

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

It has now become part of the annual ritual to hear Christians express their frustration when they hear someone say, “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” It has become the new “ground zero,” in the larger battle over the role of Christianity in western culture. Every purchase in a store becomes a new test, and we end up frustrated and even angry. So, when we are at the mall and we purchase some clothing and the cashier says, “Happy Holidays” we are told to take this as a defiant insult to the faith and to all that we hold dear as Christians. The phrase, “Happy Holidays” is being heard as “I am not a religious person and I don’t care five cents about Jesus Christ—and I wish all you Christians would just go away.” But, perhaps there is another way to look at this.

From my perspective, I do not expect unbelievers to be merry about the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In fact, I would rather not have the celebration of the incarnation so closely identified with all the secular trappings of this season of the year which have little to nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is not to be confused with purchasing a new Minecraft video game, or a Ralph Lauren silk tie. Actually, we should be the ones who want to distance ourselves from all of that. We could turn the tables on the whole conversation and say, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get all of the non-Christians to stop saying Merry Christmas, and start saying Happy Holidays?” This would more clearly delineate those who see this as merely a holiday time to eat and receive presents, and those who are seeking to remember and celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The more sacred statement, “Merry Christmas” would be reserved for practicing Christians who want to keep the holy-day. Every time I hear “Happy Holidays,” I hear it as yet another quiet Christian victory as, step by step, cashier by cashier, attendant by attendant, we get our own phrase back.

Don’t forget that the reason the early church chose December 25th to be the day the church celebrated the birth of Jesus was because it was already a holiday celebrating Mithra, a Persian or Zoroastrian god associated with cattle and harvest. This was the time when Christians were being persecuted and they could not worship openly or freely. Thus, they essentially smuggled the Christian celebration onto a day when people were already not working, and celebrating Mirtha instead. In short, Christmas was originally a “stealth” holy day which was lived out underneath the larger overlay of a pagan holiday. Does this sound increasingly familiar?

We are not entering into a new situation. That’s the amazing thing about living in a post-Christendom world. It starts looking a lot like a pre-Christendom world. We must start taking our cues from the early church—especially the first three centuries—rather than the Burl Ives Christmas of 1950’s America. So, let the wider culture drone on about Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Jack Frost, the North Pole, and Chestnuts roasting on the open fire. Indeed, “Happy Holidays” to you. But, underneath all the secular fog, we will be remembering the glorious incarnation, the Word made Flesh, the divine invasion of the planet, the beginning of the great reversal, the redemption of the world. Merry Christmas!

Comments

  • Mary Page says:

    Hmmm

    I will share this “holiday” word orgin according to the Oxford Dictionary

    Origin

    Old English hāligdæg ‘holy day’.
    one of those small words that plays a part in a large number of expressions. In the calendar of the Christian Church there used to be two sorts of special day: a high day and a holiday. Holiday (Old English) was originally holy day and was a day set apart for religious observance. A high day was a much more important religious festival commemorating a particular sacred person or event. These together give us high days and holidays

    The word “holiday” honors a high holy day in a general way. 🙂 So if you are in the season of preparing for Christmas it is for Christmas. If you are in the season for preparing for Easter it is Easter. Best of all no matter who the person is sometimes using “Happy Holiday” lets you give a Christian greeting to those different from us like Hindus and Muslims. It includes everyone and lets us maintain our integrity to God. In Christianity is it not always about the needs of “the other” while we let God take care of our needs. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad

    • David Goss says:

      Mary Page,
      I can’t relate to the Oxford dictionary definition world. Interesting to note, but not relevant to the culture I am living in. Thanks for the insight though.
      Dr. Tennent,
      I needed to hear this. I am one who is growing increasingly frustrated because I have emotional connection to the Burl Ives 1950’s Christmas culture and want it back, but it’s clear those days are gone.

  • […] From everyone on the Seedbed farm team, we wish you happy holidays—err, Merry Christmas! Although really, you should read this article by Timothy Tennent. […]