A few days ago I heard a friend say that he wished someone at work “Merry Christmas” and was promptly and sternly corrected with, “It’s not Merry Christmas, it’s Happy Holidays!” What should have been a friendly exchange of wishes ended in a discordant note for both.
How did we get to this divide, where “Happy Holidays” seems innocuously secular to some, but almost offensive to others, when its root clearly refers to the old English “holy days”? Of course those “holy days” could include a lot more than Christmas around winter solstice, both in the present and distant past, and I suppose few would object, no matter what their background, if the wish or greeting was made in that spirit. It becomes problematic only when “holidays” in its modern, secular reading is meant to aggressively replace reference to Christmas altogether out of a false sense of inclusiveness. As a result, both its usage and also the customary “Merry Christmas” are suddenly perceived as inconsiderate or a slight by some. No surprise, then, that this culminates at some point into the even blander and neutral “Best Wishes for the Season.”
The problem is that attempting to exclude reference to one of the most important festivities in the Christian calendar other than Easter naturally must also lead to exclusion of reference to those of all other faiths eventually, if only out of “fairness.” Such exercise in political correctness serves nobody in the end, other than perhaps satisfying those hostile to the outward manifestations of any faith.
While a mounting backlash against this neutering of Christmas in Canada — even from those who regard it only as a traditional or cultural event — is understandable, neither does it reflect the spirit of the celebration when that then turns to defiant xenophobia by some or, just as unhelpful, to exclusion through the blatant claim that the Christian faith is the only true path to the Divine, as was stated recently by a writer in the Chief’s Worship section.
By all means: Best wishes for “Christmas” (old Engl. Cristes maesse), “Weihnachten” (German for “Hallowed, consecrated Night”) “Noel or Natal(e)” (all derived from Latin for Birthday) and whatever else it may be called in other languages, or simply “Happy Holy Days” — to celebrate the birth of someone who came into this world not with a message of exclusion and division, but one of inclusion, love and peace. We should keep this with “goodwill to all men and women” in mind at all times, no matter how we formulate our Christmas wishes or how they are given us.