Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Should Both be Received with Tolerance in a Pluralist Culture.
On Christmas Eve I was driving my family to another state for our Christmas celebration and had to stop at McDonald’s to eat a quick lunch. While sitting at a table I heard the most bizarre conversation in which an employee (who seemed somewhat lacking in intelligence, though I can’t be sure) loudly explained to a customer that a “national law” forbid her from saying “Merry Christmas” to patrons unless they said it first.
I assume the woman is mistaken. Such a national law would be a direct violation of the First Amendment. Yet I’m afraid the United States is becoming a culture in which such a “law” makes sense to people. The freedom of religion has been deformed into a mandate for freedom from religion.
So I found it interesting yesterday to read about how upset a man became when an airline employee wished him “Merry Christmas.” According to Newser.com,
You may not like it when people wish you “Merry Christmas,” but if you’re traveling today, you may want to try not to lose your temper over it. One man in New York couldn’t quite do that Tuesday, and he got tossed off a plane as a result. The man was waiting to board an American Airlines flight at La Guardia Airport that day when a gate agent checking boarding passes wished him a merry Christmas. “You shouldn’t say that because not everyone celebrates Christmas,” the man replied, according to witnesses. When the gate agent asked for an alternate greeting suggestion, the man just yelled, “Don’t say ‘Merry Christmas’!”
His behavior only became worse in the airplane when another attendant gave him the same greeting. He began lecturing the crew and shouting. When he was finally escorted off the plane, the other passengers applauded.
So here is my proposal. Since we live in a pluralistic culture let’s all realize that when we accept blessings from other people those people may be speaking in the name of a fake god or power. The job of loving our neighbors means ignoring the idolatry and receiving the positive regard being communicated in the greeting.
Otherwise, I would have to be offended by everyone who wishes me a secular “Happy Holidays,” since that is obviously an atheistic greeting that pretends there is nothing more to the season than a society’s wish to have such a season without any regard for beliefs about its historic foundation. I wish all people were Christians, and I know that atheism is false, but I choose to be happy to get a pleasant greeting from atheists.
I remember Neil Diamond did a Christmas album awhile back despite being known as Jewish (though I have no idea what, if anything, he believes about God). So it is possible to be a non-Christian and receive a Christian greeting without taking offense. From now on, when someone wishes you “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukah” I think we should take it to mean that they celebrate the religious holiday and that they wish us to have a blessed experience during that time no matter what our personal religious convictions.
That is my version of live and let live. I hope you find it helpful.