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

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Jack deJarnette

Jack deJarnette

I am a United Methodist Minister who in June 2008, was placed on incapacity leave due to kidney failure.  My kidneys failed due to immusuppression medications secondary to a heart transplant in 1997. The ministry is my second career having spent 12 previous years at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as Chief Respiratory Therapist and Technical Director of Life Support Systems at Emory University School of Medicine. I  have a wonderful wife of 45 years, two super children, and four grandchildren. My life has been exciting, challenging, and full of wonder as in my early years I was concerned with saving lives and in my later years saving souls I was graduated  from Georgia Military Academy in 1961 (Woodward Academy). I attended Emory-at-Oxford College, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Emory University for postgraduate work. I received my ministry credentials through the United Methodist Church Course of Study at Emory's candler School of Theology. My Theology is primarily Wesleyan and varies with the particular topic under discussion. I refuse to be labeled either liberal or conservative. My politics are moderate embracing what I hope is the best of all parties. I have a deep love for Christ, the Church, and the United States of America. Bev (my wife) and I are deeply thankful to God for the blessings that have been showered on us throughout our lives.

7 Comments
  1. Instead of saying or writing “Happy Holidays,” maybe the solution is simply to greet everyone with “Happy and blesséd Holy Days.” Tolerant nonbelievers will simply (but too often with their usual supercilious condescension) graciously accept the greeting as a harmless custom or superstition, but beware; there are always some grinchy, grouchy, atheist misanthropic sociopaths who will no doubt snarl “Bah, humbug!” if you so much as wish them “Good luck!” or say “God bless you!” when they sneeze!

  2. Daniel Flynn

    Nice article, Jack. Not only did people not know the day Jesus was born, they got the year wrong, it turned out. But that is not important for me. What is significant is the last line of the prayer attributed to St. Francis: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” The winter solstice is the end of the year’s dying into darkness and the beginning of the next year’s new birth into the light. For that, humans have been calling upon the God or gods of their beliefs thousands and thousands of years before a Jew named Jesus was born a mere two thousand years ago in a colonial part of the then Roman Empire. And I don’t believe it was snowing where Jesus was born, as one dear Irish Monsignor said in his sermon a couple of years ago at midnight mass in a country church in County Galway, Ireland. I no longer practice any religion, but I look for spiritual sustenance from all and pray more today than I ever did before while growing up Catholic in San Francisco in the 1940s and 1950s. Happy holidays to you! Daniel Clarke Flynn (author of one Like the Dew article, husband of Southern-born Kate McNally, author of many).

  3. Frank Povah

    And the same to you, Jack.

    It’s never bothered me when people say they’ll pray for me or for my friends. I don’t mind it when I leave practice with the Buffalo Springs Strings at the Minorsville Christian Church and those kindly men and women say to me “God bless and mind how you go”.

    I didn’t mind when a couple of my friends and rivals at pigeon shows in Australia, on being asked how they were replied “I’m pretty good thanks mate, Il Hamduh Allah” and said “salaam” when we parted – though that last was pretty cruel, they always had better Syrian Barbarisi than I.

    I understood when my all-time favorite flatmate, Jeff Cohen, forbade crayfish (spiny rock lobster to you) and cobbler (a delicious estuarine catfish) in our flat after he re-discovered his faith, it was no price to pay for his friendship.

    I only get upset with people who tell me that theirs is the only right path to being a decent person and you, Jack, nor any of my friends have ever done such a thing.

  4. Mark Dohle

    Good article. Yes some christians do persecute others because they believe differently and make it hard for the rest of us. Our history is violent (I am speaking mostly of my church which is Catholic) but hopefully we have for the most part grown past that. Jesus was non-violent and only got angry to press a point……in the sermon on the mount one of the sayings jumps out at me: That God is good to the grateful, as well as the ungrateful. Also we meet Christ in those who cause us the most difficulty, so the path is not an easy one.

    Gift giving is an anology for grace, for it is freely given, no strings attached…..hopefully ;-).

    Good article, thanks.

    Peace
    mark

    1. I’m ambivalent about gifts. In German, you see, “Gift” is the word for poison, the stuff with which that apple given to Snow White put her in a long, if not deadly, sleep. Gifts may be freely given. But, if so, they are given anonymously. Once identified, the giver, almost instinctively, expects gratitude in return. And gratitude is akin to servitude, a subordinate position. The giver of gifts says “I’m better than you.” Which is why providing material support to the community via taxes, which are then distributed anonymously, strikes me as more virtuous than giving charity. Most equitable, of course, is to insure that our assets and resources are fairly shared and that, if some people are granted exclusive use (private property rights), that exclusivity comes with a concomitant obligation to share the fruits with those whom our special rights effectively deprive.

      That human rights come with obligations, if they are to be properly recognized, is what the conservative claim to authority actively denies — that because someone arrives first and stakes a claim (or authorizes a new life) there’s an obligation to see life is sustained. Authority without responsibility is the conservative ideal, the elevation of the deadbeat dad into an ideology which, not coincidentally, economists have justified with the principle that human transactions and interactions are driven by demand.

      You see how that works? The child’s demand to be fed provides the rationale for sustenance being withheld, unless and until the child is properly subservient. That’s “family values” in a nutshell.

      Nursing mothers don’t come by that perspective on their own. In nursing mothers, it’s their own breast which demands to be emptied on a regular basis. So, the infant actually provides a service from the get-go, in addition to the satisfaction of perceiving that it’s thriving, growing and becoming more mature.

      Is it significant that Christianity is a religion which promotes the importance of children?

  5. Betsey Dahlberg

    I am not really worried that the Jews will try to convert me, or that the Muslims will try to kill me in my house on Christmas; I don’t worship Mithras, but I have studied the faith the Roman soliders placed in him. I have studied some of the concepts of Buddhism, and of Taoism, and of several other of the world’s major religions.

    I was born to Christian (in fact, Methodist) parents, and have clung to that expression of my belief in God for a very long time. I still find comfort in it.

    I love it when people wish me a “Merry Christmas,” and when I get a wish for a “Happy Holidays!” It means they are kind and wish me well.

    As an ADULT, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest when people find comfort in other expressions of their beliefs. But then, I am nearing old age, and perhaps I have learned some things that other people have get to find.

  6. Jack deJarnette

    Dear Monica,
    I know that “gift” in German means “poison”, I took two years of German in college and was quiet fluent. Unfortunately I lost most of it over the years. Certainly some gifting can be poisonous. When one gives to another in the intention of manipulation that certainly is poisonous. However I believe that altruism is very much alive and well in America today. The kind of giving that I am thinking about is like grace, unmerited favor with no expectation of a return.

    I once was thrown out of a philosophy class because I argued with the 22 year old doctor of philosophy. I was considerably older than he and had was just returning to school having served 3 years in the army. The professor posited that we have children for the express purpose of caring for us in our old age. My beautiful wife was in her 7th month of a planned pregnancy. I argued that we were not having a child to care for us, but were having a child for the sheer joy of it. The argument became very heated, him holding onto his position, me mine. He finally with a great deal of vehemence told me to get out of his class and not return. I acknowledged his demand, but before leaving I chided him for filling young minds with such bulls**t. Today my children are 40 and 45 and I have yet to expect them to care for me. We now share life as equals and I have the satisfaction of having two wonderful children who are contributing to society

    We did not raise our children to be subservient, but rather to be responsible and your argument about mothers nursing to find relief for their swollen breasts is ludicrous. Neither my wife, daughter or daughter-in-law felt the need to nurse.

    Thanks for making me think which you often do..

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