Commentary -- Why I say 'Happy Holidays'

2012-12-15T17:56:00Z 2013-12-24T09:56:48Z Commentary -- Why I say 'Happy Holidays'THE REV. DR. TONY LARSEN Journal Times
December 15, 2012 5:56 pm  • 

There has been some controversy lately about whether store clerks should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to their customers. (Apparently three out of 10 Americans actually feel offended if someone wishes them “Happy Holidays.”) And a number of religious leaders and organizations have urged their followers to boycott companies that don’t exclusively emphasize Christmas. There is a fear — among some — that Christmas is being stamped out in favor of a vague fuzzy “winter holiday season.”

The problem I have with this interpretation is that “Happy Holidays” was never intended to exclude Jesus from Christmas — it was intended merely to be sensitive to people who aren’t Christians. Saying “Have a Merry Christmas” to every stranger you meet is to assume that none of them are Jews or Muslims or Hindus. “Happy Holidays” is a way to be respectful of our diverse culture, because it could mean Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy New Year ... or Happy Whatever-else-you-might-be-celebrating.

If I, as a Christian, am offended that a stranger might not know I’m a Christian — and thus might say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” — then I’m way too easily offended! Besides, why would I expect (or even want) a religious message from my bank or the mall? (Isn’t that what I go to church for?)

The real problem with this season, I think, is not that Christ has been taken out of it (the last I heard, Jesus is still being celebrated in millions of churches and homes across the country), but that too much materialism has been creeping into it. (Which is why I say: We don’t need to put Christ back into Christmas — we need to put Christmas back into December!)

So, when I see a stranger (i.e., someone whose religious beliefs or background I don’t know), I say “Happy Holidays.” It is meant to be a celebration of what we have in common, not a declaration of what divides us. If you hear me (or someone else) greet you this way, please don’t be offended; we are merely wishing you peace and joy for whatever holiday(s) you are celebrating.

The Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen is the pastor of Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine.

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(7) Comments

  1. johnny mack
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    johnny mack - December 17, 2012 6:24 pm
    Growing up they always said sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. It's true. People are so easily offended by words now days. They'll cry fowl when a person wishes them happiness but call them an offensive term and they'll laugh and brush it off.
  2. mrprudhom
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    mrprudhom - December 17, 2012 1:30 pm
    Why I say "Merry Christmas"

    I celebrate Christmas. It is part of my religion and my family heritage. When I wish you a Merry Christmas, I am wishing you the best of peace, love, family and all that Christmas means to me. I wish my Jewish, Muslim, and atheist friends Mery Christmas, not to convert them, not to belittle their choices, but to share something meaningful to me.

    Although our differences seem to be dividing us at an ever increasing rate, I embrace the differences. If someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah, or invites me to feast at Eid al-Fitr with them it is an honor: they are sharing something deeply personal to them with me.

    Today I had fish, rice, brussel sprouts, green beans, and a banana for lunch. They each had a distinct flavor. While at lunch, I looked as a colorful painting, with deep contrasts that were stricking. If you take all that food, and put it in a blender, it would have the same nutrtious value, but would be very uninteresting in its blended form. If you take all of the colors on that painting, blended them all togther and spread it evenly across the canvas, I think the painting would lose much of its interest.

    Let us enjoy our differences. And, Rev. Larson, Merry Christmas.
  3. jnj3225
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    jnj3225 - December 17, 2012 12:36 pm
    Taliban will kill you. I will hug you.
  4. jnj3225
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    jnj3225 - December 17, 2012 12:34 pm
    Wishing someone a Merry Christmas. Is just being friendly. That's what Christians are. I boycott Target because they do not allow the Salvation army ring at there stores. If you don't want a Merry Christmas, then boycott.
  5. The Underground Conservative
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    The Underground Conservative - December 15, 2012 10:31 pm
    An American: Merry CHRISTmas to you.
  6. An American
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    An American - December 15, 2012 9:42 pm
    Well said. I agree. To have to drive your Christianinty down others throats is no different than a member of the Taliban doing the same thing. Even Jesus Christ Himself didn't do that.
  7. An American
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    An American - December 15, 2012 7:55 pm
    Well said. I agree. To have to drive your Christianinty down others throats is no different than a member of the Taliban doing the same thing. Even Jesus Christ Himself did do that.
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