Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays – Are People Really Offended?

By Lauren Yarger
When I made a purchase at a local store yesterday, the clerk wished me happy holidays. I thanked him and wished him the same, but according to news articles and to opponents of political correctness, I suppose I should have been offended.

Store clerks are being instructed to wish "happy holidays" instead of “Merry Christmas” to avoid offending those who might not celebrate that holiday. Some stores have eliminated Christmas music and banned bell-ringing representatives of the Salvation Army from entrances because these reminders that most of us celebrate Christmas apparently can’t be tolerated by those who don’t.

I’m really curious to know how many of these highly offended people really exist. Most Jewish folks I know respond with an unoffended “and Happy Chanukah” when greeted with a “Merry Christmas.” I doubt the numbers of offended atheists are very high, because I used to be a pretty committed and vocal atheist and I can tell you, someone wishing me a merry Christmas wasn’t a threat to my beliefs, nor an infringement upon them.

My atheist family celebrated Christmas, though the religious part about the birth of a savoir didn’t enter in to our festivities. When we were little, we decorated a tree, waited for Santa and –horror of horrors—sang Christmas songs in the school concert. My mother, one of the most committed atheists I ever knew and who would have closed the school down over something like mandatory prayer, came to the concerts and proudly watched as I sang “Winds Through the Olive Trees” and other songs mentioning Jesus and never felt the need to insist the school ban them, because singing them didn’t mean I had to believe them. They simply were tradition. Now schools refuse to include them, and in a way, force Christian children to participate in a celebration of secular holidays. Is this really so different?

When we were older, the holiday was an opportunity to give and receive gifts, enjoy good food and spend time with people we loved. We got the holiday off from school and work (and in one of my school districts with a large Jewish population, we got those holidays off too). I didn’t feel the need to protest and insist that everyone go to school or work on those days just because I didn’t believe in their religious significance.

Sometimes on Christmas, I even attended midnight mass services with friends because it was something they traditionally did (and I suspect attending had more to do with tradition and obligation than with any real desire to worship the Savior). Going to church didn’t threaten my belief system. I didn’t participate in what I considered “brainwashed” rituals of kneeling, crossing one’s self or taking of the bread and cup and actually used the experiences to fuel ammunition for the religious debates I often found myself winning with people who considered themselves Christians.

So if someone wished me a “merry Christmas” back in those days, I would have said “thank you; same to you.” My reaction would not have been one of offense, or one which assumed that by wishing me a merry Christmas what you actually were saying was, “I am wishing you a merry Christmas instead of a happy holiday because I am a jerk and want to try to force my religion on you.”

It’s the “forced” part that would have and did result in protest from this devout atheist. When saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school, I always stopped and refused to recite “one nation under God,” because I didn’t believe it was. If I had been called to give testimony in a court of law, I would have refused to place my hand on a bible and to swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” My high school offered a bible course as an English class and I did an independent study rather than take it. Later, a labor union agreement required me to attest to a belief in God. Having these religious things thrust upon me as a matter of normal course offended me as they infringed on my right not to follow Christianity and I took action to avoid them and spoke in favor of changing them.

Someone’s wishing me the happiness of a holiday that I didn’t celebrate for the same reasons they did, however just didn’t get the activist in me riled. Singing Christmas songs or hearing them played in stores during the shopping season didn’t offend me. If the town government decided to play Christmas carols at government meetings, I would have protested, but stores, where the majority of people are Christmas shopping? No. The stores are privately owned and they should be able to decorate and play music as they wish. If some aspect of the shopping experience really offends, you always have the option of not shopping at that store and letting the store owner know why.

So again, I have to wonder just how many people, even if they are die-hard atheists, are so offended by a merry Christmas wish. I can tell you I feel the same amount of offense now, as a Christian, being wished a happy holiday as I did as an atheist being wished a merry Christmas -- none. I assume the person is wishing me the happiness of the season, not that they are actually saying, “I am wishing you a happy holiday instead of a merry Christmas because I don’t believe in Christ and feel my rights will be violated if I say or hear the word Christmas.”

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but if that’s really what you mean by “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I feel sorry for you. The most important thing to you is not promoting the separation of church and state or your atheist or other-God beliefs. You obviously think our constitution protects you and your beliefs while keeping others from expressing theirs. This attitude of thinking you are right and that you need to protect yourself and others from exposure to contrary beliefs probably is the same argument you use to describe Christians and why you don’t like them. The same tolerance you demand from us is something you should offer yourself when we express our beliefs, and a little Christmas spirit might be just what you need to help you do this.

So to those of you who celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of our Lord and Savior, Merry Christmas. To My Jewish friends, I wish you happy Chanukah and to those who follow atheism or other religions, I wish you love, happiness and peace this holiday season. And I promise not to be offended when you wish me the same.

2 comments:

Zev Valancy said...

I think that you're right on. I am Jewish, and people can wish me whatever they like and it won't bother me. I personally would only wish someone a Merry Christmas if I knew for a fact that they celebrated Christmas. Otherwise, I just wish them happiness for a time of year that can be both wonderful and stressful.

I'm not offended when stores play Christmas music. I am often irritated that they pick the tackiest, most terrible Christmas music to play, but that's an aesthetic objection, not a spiritual one.

Schools singing specifically Christian Christmas music doesn't thrill me, and I'd probably protest it at my child's school, but I wouldn't get extremely angry over it--I'd save that for attempts to institute prayer.

And it seems to me that the people who claim that people wishing "Happy Holidays" are perpetrating a "War on Christmas" that threatens their own beliefs have exceptionally shaky foundations to their religious life. And that's unfortunate, but not my fault.

Jamie said...

Well said, Lauren!

I think the issue lies deeper than any religion, but rather at the core of what really threatens this country's future -- political correctness.

It seems to me that we, as a collected nation, are petrified at the prospect of offending someone that we will go to great lengths to be "politically correct." The ironic thing about this is, often times, the "corrected" action raises more eyebrows.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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