Friday, November 28, 2008

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

In today's world, it isn't uncommon for me to encounter someone, who makes a snide remark when I use the word "Christmas." They will say something like, "are you sure you don't mean the holidays?" They are of course referring to what some call the secularization of Christmas. In reality the practice of some commercial businesses using "holidays" instead of Christmas is their concern that they continue to appeal to someone of the Jewish faith or the other faiths, which do not celebrate Christmas. After all, the demographics of this country are changing and there is no state Christian religion in this country.

Some 20 years ago I was the manager of New Echota Historic Site near Calhoun, Ga. One year we began a tradition of holding a Christmas program in the restored home of Samuel A. Worcester, a New England missionary. The Rev. Worcester was a Congregationalist. I began doing some further research into Christmas in the Cherokee Nation, but could find no reference to Christmas in Worcester's diary. Since the Moravian missionaries, who also resided in the Cherokee Nation, kept extensive diaries, I moved to them to see what I could find. They wrote frequently during December of their Christmas preparations and celebrations.

It was then that I recalled a book I had read in graduate school, "Paul Revere and the World He Lived In" by Esther Forbes. On page 31 of that book Forbes writes, "...Paul found a way to make money for himself out of another church. Christ was Episcopal, a denomination that smelt a little to the Congregationalist of idolatry and brimstone, but even more sweetly (as other small Puritans remembered) of Christmas greens. Christmas was carefully not observed in such churches as Cockerel, but the Congregationalist children loved to sneak off to the Episcopal churches at Christmas-time and smell the greens." Cockerel was the Revere family church and, obviously, Congregational. Thus, the reason the Congregationalist, Worcester, made no reference to Christmas.

The staunch Puritan, Presbyterian, and Congregationalists of the time would have a major hissey-fit (southern for temper tantrum, usually by a female) if they could see today's world and what Christmas has become both to the secular and the Christian world. It is interesting that in their past they had seen Christmas celebrated in many ways, much like it is today, with much revelry. They felt that it was far too secular and refused to take part in such a celebration. What is that expression? History repeats itself?

Now, today, when we have much revelry and a major emphasis on gifts and the economy of Christmas, many people, especially those of the more conservative churches, decry the failure to refer to Christmas, when discussing this holiday. Instead of following the lead of the Congregationalists and backing away from a celebration, as they have done with Halloween, these folks seem to embrace the secular, celebratory and economic aspects of the holiday and demand that it be referred to as Christmas. At the same time they express concern for the over-secularization of it.

I have, for many years, wished my friends and co-workers "happy holidays" or to "have a safe holiday season," referring, of course, to both Christmas and New Year's. People raise their eyebrows at me, when I do this. I mean nothing derogatory. It's just easier than saying "merry Christmas and a happy New Year," over and over.

Since people are critical of my "heathen" behavior, it makes me even more likely to continue it. I don't like people reading too much into what I say. One of my blog readers, or maybe former blog readers, (I think she has given up on me, since she couldn't convert me to an Anti-Obama-ite.) is always reading much more into what I have written than she should. I am usually pretty blunt, and there is nothing more between the lines. So, with Christmas. I frequently refer to Christmas, but I might also refer to the "holidays." Please do not read something that isn't there.


Dirk said...

Hi Ralph,

First, it's a very small world! I just missed you at New Echota. In the early '90's, I went to the annual festival in October every year until DNR stopped it. Very interesting research you posted!

From my perspective, subsituting "Happy Holidays" throughout our society is a move to take Christ out of it. Most don't share your intentions. Many school systems refer to Christmas Break as "Winter Break" now. Many schools prohibit students from singing songs such as "Silent Night" or "O Little Town of Bethlehem", but rather generic Christmas songs totally devoid of any Christian meaning whatsoever. Lowe's Home Improvement Centers last year listed in their catalogs "Holiday Trees" rather than "Christmas Trees". This is an example of what I'm talking about. Christmas trees aren't used to celebrate any holiday but Christmas. I guess my biggest objection is that the purpose is so that we don't offend anyone else that practice other religions, but isn't it odd that Christians aren't afforded the same opportunity? A Christian's freedom of expression has become more & more limited while other religions have not been limited. A classic example of this has the ACLU lawsuit, I think it was in Virginia, a few years ago, over a school displaying a Nativity scene. The ACLU omitted one important fact from its affidavits: there were many other displays from other cultures & religions depicting how they celebrated this time of year. The Nativity was just one of many. The Christian symbol was the one that was singled out & attacked. So, the intent of the majority of our society is not the same as yours - it's a continued secularization of our society & the suppression of Christian values. For me, anytime someone greets me with "Happy Holidays", I will return the greeting with "Merry Christmas". After all, when I think about what Jesus did for me, the beating & torture He went through, then being crucified for me, I'll keep on saying "Merry Christmas"!


P.S. I've been through Blairsville many times, mostly going to Brasstown Bald, & the photo you have at the top of your journal is absolutely beautiful! I never get tired of sights like that!

Georgia Mountain Man said...

Thanks for visiting New Echota many times. It is a great site, and one that tells a wonderful, but tragic story. I love walking out on the deck to see Blood Mountain and Coosa Bald. At the bottom of that page of my blog you can see Coosa Bald. Without getting into a big argument, I respectfully disagree about the idea that there is some kind of plot to secularize our society. When you say that a Christian's expression of his faith has been limited, I find that interesting. Every time I turn around there is a new Christian church being organized. The Christian churches in this country do what they please, have celebrations of their faith whenever they please. No one interferes. When Christians become politically involved in trying to force their ideas on the government, then something has to be done. I don't oppose prayer in the legislative bodies and such, but I do oppose those legislative bodies making laws that force any religious faith upon the people. Forcing the hanging of the Ten Commandments by law, ordanance, etc., for example is unconstitutional as described by the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.."

I simply do not understand forcing issues such as nativity scenes or Ten Commandments on government property, when they can be done on church property or anyone's private property. It doesn't cost the taxpayer anything, and it proves just as much. However, it doesn't get that person or group the publicity that they want for whatever reason. As long as the government doesn't try to prohibit that kind of activity, no one should be worried and that simply isn't going to happen, not in today's U.S. anyway.

That Baptist Ain't Right said...

Excellent post & an even better response to Dirk. I disagree with Dirk on many issues, but he is a good guy --- misguided, but a good guy.

I am amazed that more people aren't aware that the Puritans AKA Congregationalists didn't celebrate Xmas. They didn't celebrate for many reasons but the fact is, they didn't. And yet the pseudo-history is that the Puritans had all sorts of Xmas fun!

I agree with you --- easier to say "Happy Holidays" to encompass all of it instead of limiting it. Xmas trees have nothing to do with celebrating the birth of our Lord, but it is a secular recognition of the Holiday Season.

Great post. I'm gonna have to lnk to it. Good job!

Doug Robertson said...

Saving keystrokes, just dittoing TBAR. No disrespect to Dirk and all due respect to his opinion, but it's just, well, not right. In my opinion anyway. So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Joyous fill-in-the-blank with whatever. It's still the most wonderful time of the year for some reason. Celebrate whatever you wish, or don't, it still is one of the merriest and happiest and joyous of X days.