I love the Christmas season. I love the time of year, the lights, the music, the atmosphere of good will among men—at least we have a bit of wonderful optimism for a few days to distract us from our inexplicable drive to kill each other (in the name of God). It is pretty hard to ruin this time of year for me, but there are some ‘good Christians’ giving it their best shot. I have stayed out of this debate for many years—mainly because I consider it ridiculous, petty and beneath the intent of the season. But the cyber-bullying on social media about saying ‘Merry Christmas’ is starting before Thanksgiving this year, so I am speaking out.
First, I was born and raised a Christian. My mother had Fruits of the Spirit magnets on our refrigerator as a daily reminder of the qualities that Christ and his early followers said would identify true Christians: Love, joy, peace, long-suffering (forbearance), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galations 5:22-23). Nowhere on that list will you find pettiness, faux-martyrdom, or self-absorption. There are no calls to ‘dare’ people to prove their worth to you by demanding they adopt your viewpoint or religious beliefs. A gentle and kind person who has self-control does not throw a tantrum because someone failed to use just the right words to wish them well during a season that is sacred to many religious faiths.
Secondly, if Jesus were on Earth today, it is highly unlikely he would say ‘merry Christmas’ or condone the excessive displays of piety or orgies of commercialism that occur in supposed tribute to him. Jews and early Christians of that era did not make a habit of celebrating birthdays—Pagans did. It is also unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25th (which is–not coincidentally–the day Pagans celebrated Saturnalia). So for modern Christians concerned that their beliefs are being trampled on, your argument is actually with 4th century Rome whose leaders largely trampled on early Christian practices by incorporating pagan practices into Christian orthodoxy in order to appease–and more easily rule (at least as much a political as religious decision)–a restless population. It is not with bystanders who wish you ‘happy holidays.’
Most modern Christians, even those who actually know the history of Christmas, don’t feel its pagan origins are problematic because the message is one of honoring Christ and of tradition—not specific doctrine. That’s a reasonable viewpoint, as long as they remember that Christians are not the only group with traditions and many other religious groups have traditions and holidays this time of year that far pre-date Christmas. You can’t demand respect for your traditions if you are unwilling to extend it to others.
Third, there are a number of holidays that occur this time of year. Three in the American Christian tradition come immediately to mind—Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. There are also Jewish holidays, African holidays and holidays related to other faiths during this season. The objection to saying ‘happy holidays’ is new. When I was growing up, the phrase was used commonly. Certainly no one found it offensive or got their undies in a bunch over it. It is only in the past decade that this inclusive and inoffensive greeting has been turned into a manufactured threat to supposed Christians. Just based on sheer number of individual holidays represented at this time of year, it is a perfectly reasonable alternative to having to list off all special days. It is incredibly petty, childish and self-involved to choose take this saying as a personal affront to your religious beliefs and it requires serious pretzel logic to understand how something so innocuous can be made into a ‘war’ on Christian beliefs. If you have to go to such absurd lengths to prove you are persecuted, you are not persecuted. And remember, persecution happens to the innocent. If you are acting like a jerk and people treat you like you are acting like a jerk, that is not persecution. That represents an entirely different Biblical principle: Reaping what you’ve sown.
Lastly, posts that demand someone say, do or think a certain way and then prove it by re-posting or replying are cyber-bullying. And they are narcissistic. The real point of posts like this is to demonstrate that the poster is superior to others—a better friend, a better patriot, a better Christian. This is not how friends treat each other. Anyone who demands that I prove myself to them based on some arbitrary and petty standard is not my friend.
So the new spate of ‘bet you aren’t strong enough, Christian enough or my friend enough’ to wish me ‘merry Christmas’ posts on social media are bullying, plain and simple. They are efforts to force people to adopt the poster’s position, OR ELSE (lose their friendship, be publicly exposed for being not Christian enough, etc). My reaction to these posts is that anyone sending them is not my friend (and, in fact, is not a very good friend to anyone) and is not the type of Christian I was raised to be or want to be. I would have no problem wishing you ‘merry Christmas.’ Nor would I have a problem wishing my Jewish friends ‘happy Hannukah’ or my atheist friends ‘joy of the season’ or strangers whose religious preferences are unknown to me ‘happy holidays.’ I don’t test my friends by forcing them to adopt my standards and I do not find it threatening that my friends hold different views than I do. I most certainly do not consider them to be ‘at war’ with me because of it.
I am obviously failing on the long-suffering thing. I have lost patience with this nonsense and invite the navel-gazers outraged over coffee cups –who are so busy worrying about their personal victimhood because strangers are wishing them happy holidays instead of merry Christmas–to try to remember what this season is actually supposed to be about. Here’s a helpful hint: Jesus didn’t die for your hair-trigger feelings or your sense of entitlement.