Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Whatever Happened to "Merry Christmas"?

As I grow older, I find myself sounding more and more like my parents and those of their generation. I catch myself saying things like, “When I was growing up…”, or “I remember when…”, or “It didn’t use to be this way, why in the old days…”

So, having admitted this, let me say, I can remember when you would go to the store during Christmas and, after finishing your shopping, the store clerk would wish you a Merry Christmas; which you joyfully returned. But, it wasn’t just in stores, practically everyone wished one another a Merry Christmas.

Not today, however. Today I am bombarded with, “Happy Holidays”. And whereas Christmas cards used to proclaim boldly, “Merry Christmas”, now they simply wish the recipient a “Happy Holiday”, or “Seasons Greetings”. Such a generic proclamation could refer to any holiday, or any season.

On this point, Christmas Eve 2002, the New York Times ran an article that included the following observation about this “holiday” season:

“Heaven forbid that anyone mention specifically that what is being celebrated tomorrow is called Christmas. And, for sure, let us not acknowledge explicitly that this is also the season of Hanukkah, Id al-Fitr, Kwanzaa and, lest Wiccans feel slighted, the winter solstice. (Atheists will have to fend for themselves on this one.) Out of fear that someone, somewhere, might somehow be offended, we have abandoned all hope of giving each religious and cultural festival its due. We now lump them all together in a bland generic blob called ''the holidays.''

Many retailers recognize the controversy and rather than step on anyone’s beliefs, they simply display holiday greetings. Merry Christmas has been neglected in our culture for so long that many of us who used to say it find ourselves slipping in the occasional, “happy holidays” without even realizing it.

So, what happened to Christmas? How did we get to the point where it has lost its original significance in the culture, and simply became a “happy holiday”?

The roots of it probably began with litigation filed decades ago on behalf of Jewish plaintiffs, suing for the right to have Hanukkah given the same recognition as Christmas. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is typically celebrated during the Christmas season and, as many cities allow Christmas displays on city property, some Jews believed that a Menorah – a symbol of Hanukkah – should be given equal standing.

Courts began to rule in favor of this and in some cities menorahs and mangers, or menorahs and Christmas trees began appearing together. Naturally, other groups would wanted representation, including atheists, who began suing for the right to display representations that they don’t believe in anything.

A recent example of this is the case that arose out of a display in the capitol building in Washington. The display began as a manger scene and eventually a menorah was added. After a few years the Jewish group, that donated the menorah, seemed to tire of it and quit putting out their Menorah. However, an atheist group petitioned to fill the void and were allowed to place a sign that simply stated:
“At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

It doesn’t seem like reason is prevailing here. In fact, this whole attack on Christmas seems quite lacking of rational thinking. Consider Jersey City’s attempt to satisfy a court ruling in such a way that would allow the city to continue a decades’ long tradition of displaying a crèche outside City Hall.

“For now, Jersey City has a court's approval to continue its 35-year tradition of erecting a holiday display of a menorah and a creche outside City Hall as long as officials make sure to include Santa, Frosty the Snowman, a little red sleigh and an evergreen decorated with Kwanzaa ribbons… a Federal appeals court panel has ruled that this mix of religious and secular symbols satisfies United States Supreme Court rulings that upheld similar displays in Pawtucket, R.I., in 1984 and in Pittsburgh in 1989.” New York Times 2/19/99

Unfortunately this is not an isolated event. Amorak, NY had a long standing tradition of placing a Christmas tree in a public park. Eventually, Jewish residents thought Hanukkah should also be given recognition and a large menorah was placed to the right of the tree. Then, a couple of years ago, a Muslim resident thought the Islamic faith should also be represented and, you guessed it, a large crescent moon and star (the symbol of Islam) was placed to the left of the tree.

At least the Christmas tree and the menorah are intended to represent something that is actually celebrated during the month they are placed in the park. The crescent moon and star has nothing to do with any Islamic event that coincides with the celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah. Next thing you know, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, and every other religious group will be demanding their religion should also be represented in the park. And, how could they be denied.

Let us not lose sight in all of this, that, as far as Christianity goes, the Christmas tree is not the symbol of our faith or of what we are celebrating. If this is about religious recognition, then perhaps it is time for Christians to exercise their rights and demand a cross be placed beside the symbols of other religions; for as best as I can tell, we very rarely have our symbol represented in this so-called fight.

So, let me conclude by wishing you a hearty Merry Christmas! That’s what we used to say in the old days.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:8-11
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