Let's just say the "Merry Christmas" backlash has officially begun. After years of politically correct "Happy Holidays," and the annual assault on all things Christian in the public square, many Americans are declining to turn the other cheek.
The MC backlash isn't only for, by or about Christians. It is a quintessentially American revolt against absurdity, the inevitable result of narcissistic, nihilist ninnies pushing too far....
[she goes on to say...]
"Merry Christmas" means different things to different people, obviously. To devout Christians, the greeting conveys a profound spiritual connection to the seminal event in Western civilization. To non-Christians, the words at worst evoke a season of music, decorations, shopping and gift giving; at best, they bespeak a vacation day.
Absent religious content, Merry Christmas otherwise is a universal expression of our best stuff: charity, forgiveness, generosity and hope. What's to complain about?
Well, what I might complain about as a Christian is that she, by making "Merry Christmas" into a pious nationalistic shibboleth, "absent religious content", is that she has repaid the favor of bland homogenization by evacuating Christmas of its ostensible content. That is to say, if by "Merry Christmas" she only intends "a universal expression of charity, forgiveness, generosity and hope", then why not simply say "Season's greetings" or "Happy holidays" or some other heartfelt expression of good cheer?
(This is the same sort of problematic move that some folks made when the presence of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was called into question this year. The reference to God was referred to as a cultural artifact, not a religious affirmation, and that people were free to fill in that word with whatever content they wished, or no content.)
Eric Zorn, writing in today's Chicago Tribune, sees something more sinister afoot in this resurgence in seasonal specificity. He writes:
More than ever this season I'm hearing "Merry Christmas"--used defiantly, pointedly--as an in-your-face sack dance of a greeting meant to underscore Christian dominance in American society.
Now I have not seen this, although I live in a rather culturally sheltered area, and, frankly, I don't get out much. So this might be true, I don't know. If it is, I must say that this is deeply, deeply unfortunate, as this practice (and Parker's suggestion) seems to co-opt the gospel (in this case, Christ's birth) into purely nationalistic and ideological terms, which would be idolatry.
For my money, I dislike expressions such as "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" because they are so generic. They are a way of navigating in the world without getting to know another person in their specificity. Nobody celebrates "Holiday" or "Season" (and not many celebrate "Festivus", yet).
Moreover, by publicly resorting to only these banalities and banishing any specifiable religious content to the private realm (whether that is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or more cultural celebrations such as Kwanzaa), it would seem then that the only thing that we (publicly) have in common is spending and consumption and that is, frankly, pathetic. I do try to say Merry Christmas to friends who are Christian or are otherwise celebrating Christmas in one way or another. I gladly say Happy Hannukah or similar greetings to Jewish or other friends as appropriate (although hopefully, with my Jewish friends, I will keep in mind that holidays such as Rosh Hoshanah, Yom Kippur, and Pesach are more important holidays to them than Hannukah). If I have a friend that I am unsure about, I will ask him or her "do you celebrate Christmas?" as an opportunity to get to know them better and offer them appropriate warm wishes for the end of the year, which to me seems vastly preferable to either the bland pablum of "Happy Holidays", or using Christmas as a cultural bludgeon.
Here's another Christmas-season writing that might interest Gower Street readers:
Why is Christmas so often reduced to "X-mas"? Is it some vast, ominous conspiracy by (fill-in-the-blank) to remove Christ? Not at all! Check out Ralph the Sacred River's helpful post on this issue.