Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why “Happy Holidays” is not the Verbal Equivalent of Giving Jesus the Finger

Now that the lights and candles are back in the attic, the dreidel is shoved in a corner, and most Christmas trees have reached the same uplifting and untimely end that Steve Buscemi experienced in Fargo, I’ve decided it is now finally safe to tackle something that has been bothering me for years, but magnified these last few months, and that is this: It has increased exponentially in popularity (almost exclusively within the reactionist Protestant Christian community, and perhaps more in the South and Midwest than other areas) to be openly offended when one utters “Happy Holidays”, refers to an evergreen as a “Holiday Tree”, or speaks about the time from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve as “The Holiday Season”.

I am most certainly aware that many of the customs and traditions absorbed by Christmas over the years are important to people and their families, yet at the same time they collectively are highly irrelevant and often large distractions from the intent. My frustration is primarily directed at those who are outraged (whether legitimately or falsely, through ignorance or otherwise) in the event that some of these non-original rituals and symbols are “defiled” or “misrepresented”, when in fact they were borrowed, stolen, or absorbed from other holidays or customs, often for political or cultural reasons. I’m speaking of course, of the Christmas tree, its ornaments and candles, evergreens in general, mistletoe, the Yule log and Yuletide, the seasonal occurrence of the holiday itself, etc. I could go on, but there are literally volumes on these topics, some of which I highly recommend below.

My own personal life experience with Christmas as we know it today has been quite similar to many other people I know with Protestant upbringings…a celebration of the Advent season using wreaths and candles, a modern Christmas tree with lights and ornaments of all kinds, a nativity scene, my mother’s semi-addiction to ceramic Snow Village and Dickens Village houses, mistletoe, stockings on the mantle, Santa Claus (but not to an extreme), church services on Christmas Eve, the usual Americanized emphasis on reindeer, snowmen, bells that jingle, and the overabundance of red and green as dictated by the world around me. I now have friends of many faiths, and some of none whatsoever. I’m married to a lifelong Catholic, and although I’m not a “practicing” Christian at this point, one of my life’s passions is the study and understanding of history and religion. And not surprisingly, both are full of idiots, which assist in fueling my other love…of ranting.

Here’s an actual quote from a letter to the editor of the Santa Clarita Signal dated January 1st of 2010:

“Now we are resorting to calling Christmas trees ‘holiday trees?’ Calling it a ‘holiday tree’ is like calling a menorah a candelabra. Maybe we should start referring to menorahs as holiday candles.”

Now, first of all, “candelabra” is the plural form of the word, used when referring to a pair. “Candelabrum” would be the proper term for a single multi-candle apparatus. But let’s ignore that for now and focus on the true idiocy of this statement. “Menorah” should truly refer to the original lamp used in Jewish religious history which burned for a miraculous eight days instead of one, or a replica thereof. “Chanukkiyah” or “Hanukiah” should be used when referring to any candelabrum used during the celebration of Hanukkah. Which brings us to our second point. A chanukkiya or hanukiah IS, in fact, a form of candelabrum, in that it is a single candlestick that holds multiple candles. So…it would be quite fine to refer to it as such. But now let’s delve into the most uninformed aspect of the above statement, the part that should really infuriate all educated individuals the world over, regardless of faith (or lack thereof). The chanukkiya is a recreation of an actual item that was of crucial importance in a story of Jewish triumph, hope, and light. The Christmas tree is nothing of the sort. It has no roots whatsoever in Christianity, nor Jewish history. This couldn’t be a more unfair, imbalanced, or inaccurate comparison. Actually, I’m wrong. Yes it could. If she had become upset that “Easter Eggs” were now to be referred to as “Celebration Yolks”, that would have been slightly more ridiculous.

One can almost feel the arrogance and unnecessarily defensive mindset hiding clumsily behind this writer’s words. This might be the most ironic occurrence of all. In an attempt to defend what she believes to be a part of her faith under attack, another religion has been thrown under the bus. Beyond having the ability to pen a letter and mail/email it to the proper address, I couldn’t be more skeptical of this Signal reader’s grasp on reality.

This problem has many faces and is organized in many ways. Facebook groups have surfaced with names like “It’s Not a Holiday Tree, it’s a Christmas Tree”. Demonstrations have occurred outside of state and federal offices with groups taking offense to the terms “Holiday Ornaments” or “Holiday Wreaths”. And most recently, the gag-inducing cry of “It’s Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays”, as if uttering the latter instantly induces a church burning or kills an infant. And let’s be honest, religion has historically been responsible for enough of that kind of thing on its own.

Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against the use of “Merry Christmas” whatsoever. I’m just asking for some perspective here. This epidemic is moving toward insanity. A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a news story detailing a new product being marketed by a company called Boss Creations. They are trying to put Christ back into Christmas, quite literally…with a 7 ½ foot artificial tree that features a massive crucifix as the trunk. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how incredibly asinine this is.

For many cultures, especially those of the pagans and Druids, the Winter Solstice signified a time of change. The solstices and equinoxes have long been markers of seasons, fertility, planting, and harvesting. The specific origins are somewhat muddy, but during the cold, harsh winter months, evergreens stood as the sole reminder of life through adversity and hardship, and were used to symbolize these hopes. Trimmings and branches were used to decorate homes. Fruit was hung from trees, and candles affixed to the tips of their branches. I’m truly hopeful that none of this is a surprise to you. For these reasons alone, it is simply not intellectually honest (at the least) to be offended by the “mistreatment” of this icon, or many others, including the ornaments (developed from the hanging fruit), Advent wreaths (ancient Germanic and Scandinavian origins also related to the Solstice), the Yule log (burned remnants of the pagan tree), and the occurrence of the birth of Christ itself (most likely springtime instead, considering the historical events and attendance of shepherds that had been tending flocks in the story). Eventually the tree and its friends listed above were incorporated into Christianity quite easily, being that Christ is seen as the “light of the world”, etc.

Now that we have knocked some of these unfortunate “crusaders” (that’s a fun term, considering…) off their high horses (or at least bumped them onto a Shetland pony), let’s explore another problem with their flawed logic.

It is insinuated by some (and stated outright by others) that “Happy Holidays” or “Xmas” or “Season’s Greetings” somehow demeans or dims the importance of Christmas, and that it is an attempt by non-Christians to shift the focus from Christ and broaden it to be more inclusive, which is an attack against their beliefs and heritage. I have two responses to that claim. The first is “that’s ridiculous”, and the second is “who cares”. The only person that can shake your faith, rattle your beliefs, or change your mind is yourself. For one to have that opinion for any reason seems incredibly naïve and inconsistent with Christ’s teachings as I understand them. And might I suggest that if the one thing that’s really going to put a bee in your bonnet next winter is some poor schmuck that nods at you in the line at the market and says “Happy Holidays”, perhaps the real problem lies within.

The “Holiday Season”, as it stands today, stretches from late November through early January and contains no fewer than ten widely recognized holidays, including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Yule, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany. Regardless of one’s feelings about the legitimacy of one or more of these celebrations, they still exist. In addition to these, there are dozens of lesser know days of celebration related to Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, and Persian practices, just to name a few. And of course, we can’t forget Festivus. So not only is avoiding “Happy Holidays” silly, it’s also factually inaccurate. Also, someone should tell these people that “Xmas” is fine, considering the fact that “X” is the Greek letter for “Chi” and the first letter of the Greek word for “Christ”, not a “broken cross” as I’ve heard before, causing my fact to retch uncontrollably, or even more incorrectly, that it is a method of “spelling Christmas without Christ”. Quite the opposite, in fact. Surely there are some frat boys in their contingent that have made this connection.

Is Christmas out of control? Of course. The first clue should have been when lights and wreaths started going on sale prior to Halloween candy being out of stock. Has it gotten away from what it originally started out to be? Undoubtedly. But don’t be distracted by what you perceive as an attack on your faith, when in reality, the object or tradition you are defending is about as Christian as Santa Claus and stockings. By doing this, you are allowing yourself to become part of the problem, not part of the solution. You begin purchasing ridiculous products designed to make people feel as though they are doing the Christian world a service, when in reality the merchant is capitalizing on their ignorance. I’m going to go out on a limb here (pun intended) and say that if Christ walked into your living room and saw the “CHRIST-mas Tree” by Boss Creations, not only would He say “what in the name of loaves and fishes is THAT thing”, but I’m also pretty sure He wouldn’t be thrilled about his method of agonizing execution being the centerpiece of an object that is supposed to celebrate His birth.

Christians of the world, by all means, unite. But not in a jerky, self-important, historically illiterate way. Educate yourselves, your friends, and your families. Celebrate the true meaning and purpose of Christian holidays, which are noble in spirit. Examine the traditions you deem to be important. Overturn the tables of the moneychangers. And most importantly, don’t get caught up in the middle of the very perversions you claim to be rallying against.

Oh, and a belated “Happy Holidays” to you all.

Links Referenced:

References and Recommended Reading:
Christmas: Its Origin and Associations, Together With its Historical Events. William Francis Dawson
The Origins of Christmas. Joseph F. Kelly
Christmas: A Candid History. Bruce David Forbes