You might notice that the title of this post is in quotes. However, they are not scare quotes! Instead, it is wanting to discuss the quote “Merry Christmas,” as used in common usage.
The Christmas season used to be particularly awkward for me. When I was in elementary school, our music classes had concerts every quarter, including the winter. During the winter concerts, there was usually at least one Christmas-themed song. I opted out of participation in these, and off-stage, I think I may have made a mountain out of a true molehill. Ha! It was definitely a molehill, as the songs were probably more likely to be “winter-themed” songs like Frosty the Snowman. They wouldn’t put a religious-based song in a public school recital!
(I won’t make this about the post-Christmas band concert in my fifth grade year, when I didn’t participate due to my damaged trumpet being Karlized: clearly the songs were not holiday-based since the concert was in January!)
Naturally, I was not always comfortable with being greeted in public by “Merry Christmas.” Since I am Jewish, I do not observe December 25 as a holy day (unless it is a Saturday and I go to Shabbat services or it coincides with a day of Hanukkah). Therefore, I have already set aside one difference: the greeting “Merry Christmas” seems like more of a secular saying, versus one that is religiously charged.
It was in late middle school and early high school when I started hearing holiday music that I could tolerate–pure-instrumental versions of songs that may or may not have been familiar. For example, I rather enjoyed pure-instrumental versions of Wade in the Water and G-d Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen that were played in the jazz band at Pound Middle School.
When I started working at Runza, I worked more hours during the holiday season. My greetings were usually date-independent (e.g. when thanking a customer as they left, saying “Have a great evening!”) During the holidays, I would say “Happy holidays!” during my first two years. But, then, I started using “Merry Christmas” in addition to “Happy holidays” as a salutation or signoff.
The whole “war on Christmas” became more salient to me as I became more aware of customer service, and saw several editorials and columns in the newspaper about it. It was around this time, particularly after graduating from high school, that I could say “Merry Christmas” in good faith without jeopardizing my Jewish identity, particularly when I worked at Runza during the holiday season. Why?
- As aforementioned, I feel that “Merry Christmas,” despite the use of the word “Christmas” in it, is a non-religious greeting.
- In some recent years, I have posted on Facebook something to the effect of: “Whether today means Christmas, <day of week,> December 25, or something else, have a great day!”
- Saying “Happy Holidays” may offend people that do not observe any holiday at this time of year. Basically, any greeting can potentially offend anyone.
- America is a Christian-majority country. Even people who don’t celebrate Christmas (e.g. are not Christian) still frequently get to take the day off and enjoy it with whatever method they choose.
- I am a moderate! My general approach to petty arguments in culture, whether holiday greetings, non-heterosexual marriage, and other relative trivialities, is “Live and let live.” Why invite trouble when there is none?
- I enjoy several other aspects of the Christmas season, such as the holiday lights, parties, food, and just the general festivity (even if the music tends to get annoying).
If someone wishes me “Merry Christmas,” I am perfectly fine with accepting the greeting as is, without rudely correcting them. This is an example of diplomacy, I think!
(EDIT: December 19, 2014: I am cheating by adding the pingback to the Daily Prompt list from today. I was psychic, evidently, for writing basically that prompt a few days beforehand :))
Today is the three-hundred and fiftieth day of M.M.X.I.V. That makes fifty weeks.
Today is the three-hundred and fifty-second day of Mission 441. Eighty-nine days remain.