Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Christmas is almost here. It’s the season of lights, love, peace on earth and goodwill towards men – and – fighting over which greeting to use: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.  What was once a cordial yuletide exchange has turned into a heated battle between political correctness and the preservation of a cultural tradition that celebrates the birth of Christ.

This debate ignited in 2005 when retailers like, Kmart, Target, and Best Buy, decided to replace their Merry Christmas greeting with, Happy Holidays. Companies reasoned that the new greeting would be more inclusive to those who didn’t celebrate Christmas. Also, with the shopping season starting earlier each year, it would be odd if stores began wishing people a “Merry Christmas” before Thanksgiving.

The backlash was severe. Groups like the American Family Association announced boycotts of business that were removing “Christmas” from their greeting. The public response was so fierce that many companies gave in to the pressure and reinstated “Christmas” in their advertising campaigns. But the issue hasn’t gone away.

There are two parts to this controversy. First, there are groups that aggressively seek to ban anything that references Christmas (e.g., trees, nativities, carols) because of the religious underpinnings. They insist that the country alter its holiday lexicon so it doesn’t impose a religious-based tradition on those who choose not to celebrate it. But do holiday greetings and decorations constitute a religious imposition? I say, no. In fact, Christmas has become as much of a cultural tradition as a religious one. Many people participate in the seasonal activities with lights, trees, and gifts, without acknowledging, much less celebrating, the birth of Jesus. Regardless, it’s still called “Christmas.”

This brings me to the second part of the controversy. Over the years, Christmas has been redefined, not by atheists or the wardens of political correctness, but by those who actually celebrate it. Peace and joy has been replaced with stress and anger.  Generosity is crowded out by consumerism. Buying stuff supersedes making memories. If we are honest, in our culture, Christmas has become an event that we try to get through, as if it were a root canal, instead of a celebration of unconditional love and the forgiveness of our sins.

My friend and fellow blogger, Scott Perkins, has a great post on this issue (check it out here). He writes, “It is not Target’s job to keep Christ in Christmas. That responsibility is for followers of Jesus.”

But what about the greetings? I choose to say Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. One doesn’t negate the other. Ordinary people wishing us “Happy Holidays” are not necessarily denying Christ or caving to political  correctness. The holiday season runs from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

We can have the debate over the cultural “War on Christmas.” But let’s not get sucked into an argument over slogans to the point where we, too, miss out on the true meaning of Christmas.

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Savor the Season

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and Christmas is weeks away. It seems like the summertime was a week ago and school started back just yesterday. Now, we’re in the full swing of the holiday season and racing towards the dawn of another year. I found myself saying the same thing last year, and the year before, and most likely, the year before that one too.

Some things have changed in the past 11 months. Babies were born, sons and daughters graduated, loved ones passed on, people moved, jobs were lost and gained, and life changed. Other things have remained the same, yet another year still passed.

I think we are often deceived by the illusion that our joy will be found in the next life-changing event. When I get married, land a new job, have children, get promoted, travel, have more time, make more money, or retire, then I’ll be happy. When this happens, I’ll be ok.

Perhaps we overestimate the satisfaction of the destination, while underestimating the joy of the journey. I look back on events in my life that, at the time, seemed trivial. But in hindsight, they were small special moments that I wish I would have savored.

Life in the fast lane has become the norm in our society. We tend to speed through this day, making sure everything gets done so we can wake up and survive tomorrow. The Christmas season can accelerate the madness, as more events fill up our calendars. Even in the midst of the holiday craze, we can still savor the moments throughout our day. But we have to pause and notice before we can experience and enjoy.

Starting today, make an effort to soak up God’s goodness around you. Take a walk outside and enjoy the beauty of creation. Have coffee with a friend, and laugh. Sing along with the radio while driving to work. Delight in the excitement of a child or the melody of good music. Notice the people around you – even the ones you would normally try to avoid. Be still in the presence of the Lord. Focus on being, not just doing.

We can’t go back and relive the past, but we can move forward with a renewed sense of appreciation for God’s love and goodness, wrapped up in the simple things we encounter each day. I’m beginning to realize that what I need the most, I already have.

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