January 10, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Good people are often mystified at the offense taken by many Christians to the salutation “Happy Holidays!” After all, they reason, the word “holidays” includes everyone without excluding anyone, so what’s the problem?
My short response would be that, to the ears of many of us, “Happy Holidays” actually silences all faiths rather than welcoming any of them. In order to explain my point, let’s go back and see what the problem was with “Merry Christmas,” our culture’s traditional December greeting.
As far back as I can remember, Christmas was named and celebrated by people of varied faiths and of no faith at all. No doubt many have just liked the bright lights or the tradition of giving associated with Christmas, but some have surely recognized the irreplaceable gift of Christmas itself to world civilization, in terms not only of art and music but of the radical dignity of the humblest birth.
Unfortunately, some contemporary cultural engineers think that Christmas is tainted by its religious origin and that the best or only way to accommodate the many religions found in today’s America is to reduce them all to their lowest common elements. Since every religion celebrates “holidays” (a word derived from “holy days”), our politically correct mentors tell us that “holidays” are all we may mention. We may not name the specific holiday that each community is celebrating (at least if that holiday is one celebrated by a majority religion like Christianity).
However, it doesn’t make sense to try to include all religions by excluding every possible reference to any of them. A simpler strategy would be to include by including. This point was brought home in a delightful and profound way in a recent Northwest Indiana Times column by Christine Kraly (”Yes, I said ‘Merry Christmas”, Dec. 26, 2010). She pointed out that her “Merry Christmas” need not exclude any other greetings. As a Christian about to marry a Hindu, she is also comfortable wishing her in-laws-to-be a “Happy Diwali.” Nor does she take offense when in their exuberance they wish her a “Happy Diwali.” In a multicultural world, we can give one another much joy by sharing our feasts.
By contrast, just repeating “Happy Holidays” is an empty and boring way to live together. It’s really not multicultural at all; it’s just a flat one-size-fits-all uniculture. In rightly rejecting domination by one religion, it rejects the content of all religions. That’s why “Happy Holidays” hurts the feelings of many Christians, while “Happy Diwali” (or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Eid”) does not. “Happy Diwali” gives, while “Happy Holidays” takes away.
Those who have trouble seeing this point might consider how many of us would feel if there were pressure to substitute “Happy Holiday” for “Happy Valentine’s Day,” on the ground that St. Valentine was a Christian. Wouldn’t that change be felt widely to be a loss, a flattening? People might even gradually become less likely to give candy or flowers; after all, we don’t do so to commemorate most of what we call “holidays”.
Indeed, the merchants who switch to “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” may be cutting their own throats. In our nation, Christmas calls for the giving of presents far more than any other holiday. Once we have been trained not to think about “Christmas presents” anymore, our felt need to purchase them may slowly disappear.
Richard Stith teaches at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana. Besides teaching law, Professor Stith has served as director of the Program in Biomedical Ethics at St. Louis University School of Medicine and is a member of the national Board of University Faculty for Life.