I was doing my final Christmas shopping yesterday and was dumbfounded at the lack of the word Christmas to describe the season. My initial response was anger. I am a Christian and as such, this season for me is CHRISTMAS. It always has been and always will be and by God, no one is going to take that away from me, but they have. I don’t know who they are, but shame on them, it is not just a holiday it is Christmas.
Then I thought, now wait a minute anger certainly isn’t a Christian attitude. What is behind the whole notion of using the word holiday instead of Christmas? The first thing that I did was to research the word holiday. I went back to its origin and found that it originated in the Middle English. I can’t reproduce the original word because my word processor doesn’t have the necessary characters, but it looks sort of like “haligdaeg” and literally means “Holy Day”. Therefore, if holiday means holy day, then I don’t have a problem with it.
Next I wondered what different holy days other religions celebrate around our Christmas time. I discovered that Jews, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Baha’i, all have celebrations during what we Christians call the Christmas season. In addition there is Kwanzaa which is an original African-American holiday founded in 1966. Realizing all of this, I came to peace with the use of Happy Holidays as a greeting for the season.
Having said that, what am I to do with my belief that December 25th is the date designated for the celebration of Christ’s birth? I turned to Christian history to discover how December 25th was determined to be the day of celebration of Christ’s birth. I was astounded.
There are no official records of Christ’s birth since if it was recorded the records were lost long ago. For the first three hundred years of Christianity, the day of Christ’s birth was not celebrated at all since it was believed that only pagans celebrated the birthdays of their gods.
In 336 A.D. under the rule of Emperor Constantine December 25th was celebrated as the date of Christ’s birth. Church Father Origen with other leaders agreed to adopt two prominent pagan holidays; the Roman holiday natalis solis invicti and the Iranian celebration of the birthday of Mithras. In addition, the winter solstice was celebrated about this time. The church adopted these occasions to add the celebration of Christ’s birth in the belief that it would overshadow the others.
Over the years there were many debates about which date to use to celebrate Christ’s birth with them ranging from May 20th to January 6th. Finally, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar December 25th was selected by most of the church, but not all. Only in recent years has December 25th been accepted by the whole church.
So looking at the history of Christmas day, I decided to get unbent about using the term Happy Holidays as the season’s greeting. For me and my Christian friends we will celebrate Christmas on December 25th and let others celebrate their holy days as they will.
Think how confusing it would be if every celebration was listed at the mall—Happy Pancha Ganapati (Hindu), Happy Rohatsu (Buddhist), Happy (actually sad) Ashura (Muslim), Happy Hanukkah (Jewish), Happy Kwanzaa (African-American), Happy Christmas (Christian).
I like a statement written by Ben Stein and quoted by him on CBS, on a Sunday morning in 2005. He said:
“I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees.
“It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.
“I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution, and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.”
So here is my conclusion: Far too many of us who call ourselves Christian feel that we are being pushed around by a non-Christian minority (76% of Americans profess Christianity). Instead, we should stop assuming that we are pushed around, but could it be that we might be pushing others around, by demanding that our Christmas be recognized over all others.
If we who profess to be Christian live up to our profession, we wouldn’t be troubled by what a holiday is called, rather our witness through living day by day would free us from our petty complaints. We can celebrate Christmas in our homes, in our churches and in public and should. We, of course believe that we have the true way and that the light shines on us exclusively, but others believe the same through their faith expressions. Can we not live together in peace and harmony honoring each other and sharing our Holliday with joy and happiness?
So to my Christian friends, Happy Christmas; to all others, Happy Holidays and as my Jewish friends say, Shalom.
Copyrighted © 2010 by Jack deJarnette