A version of this article was published in December 2017
Several years ago, during the most wonderful time of the year, I recall visiting the grocery store and wishing the cashier a “Merry Christmas.” His reply of “a Happy Holiday to you, too” left me puzzled, to say the least.
What exact “Holiday” did he mean to wish me “Happy”? I had wished him a Merry Christmas; it’s not as if my religious leanings were in doubt. He could not possibly have meant to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, and even that I would not mind. If he had meant New Year’s, then why not just wish me a “Happy New Year.” Kwanzaa … well, I’ll get to that in a moment.
The clerk’s insistence on saying “Holiday” instead of Christmas reminds me of how G.K. Chesterton said the West is “on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” Nothing better sums that up than a meme from last year:
Here’s how Wikipedia describes “Happy Holidays” — “A collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day (St. Stephen’s Day), the New Year and Epiphany.”
If that were so, then why don’t we wish people “Happy Holidays” around Easter? After all, the shamrocks are out for St. Patrick’s Day, Moses has yet to part the Red Sea at Passover, the margaritas are cooling for Cinco de Mayo and the Italians are gearing up for St. Josephs. If “Happy Holidays” is just an inclusive gesture, then why wish anyone a happy anything. We could just go around saying “Happy Holidays” each month of the year to make absolutely sure nobody got the boot.
The Left insists we say “Happy Holidays” only on Christmas because it is the one religious holiday that the government officially recognizes, forever reminding them of America’s religious past. The Left claims “inclusiveness” as the reason, but there are really only three holidays that lend credence to that: New Year’s, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Let’s examine this for a moment.
New Year’s is like a fortune cookie; you know it’s coming, you get a smile out of it, but it’s not why you came to the restaurant. Kwanzaa deserves about as much consideration as a genuine holiday as Scientology deserves consideration as a genuine religion. Just consider the origins.
Invented in 1966 by a convicted felon accused of torturing two women, the numbers of actual people who celebrate Kwanzaa have been hotly contested for several years now. The founder has claimed that as many as 28 million people celebrate it; the African American Cultural Center once claimed 30 million. However, in 2004, a survey for the National Retail Foundation discovered that 1.6% of those surveyed in the United States celebrated it. Even one of Kwanzaa’s big proponents, researcher and professor Keith Mayes, admitted that its popularity has seriously waned since the ’60s and ’70s.
“It just no longer shows up in some of the places that it did 30 to 40 years ago. You still have people who actually celebrate it,” Mayes said. “You have third generations of Kwanzaa celebrants … but Kwanzaa no longer has its movement which brought it forth, which is the black power movement. That movement has waned.”
Mayes estimates that roughly 1 to 2 million people in the United States celebrate Kwanzaa, which means that even if the founder’s numbers are correct, it applies only to those outside the country.
For Hanukkah, I must say, as a Catholic who regards the Book of Maccabees as sacred scripture (we get the doctrine of Purgatory from it), I wholly welcome its inclusion alongside Christmas. I doubt most Americans would disagree. Down at my local shopping center, every year a gargantuan Christmas tree (what my misguided city now calls a “holiday tree”) is always featured alongside a towering menorah. On every main street, window paintings regularly display a dreidel spinning beside a jolly fat Santa. On the pop-culture front, millennials can certainly attest to growing up with Adam Sandler serenading them with his colorful list of Jewish celebrities on the radio every year; his “Hanukah Song” has practically become a season classic. Take a drive through San Fernando’s “Candy Cane Lane” and you’re guaranteed to see at least one house with a colorfully-lit “Star of David” on its lawn across the street from an equally extravagant Nativity scene.
That’s genuine inclusiveness.
Nobody, except maybe the ACLU, wants to kick Hanukkah out of the Christmas season. Nor do people feel its presence somehow diminishes Christmas. In fact, it’s a positive cultural exchange – Jews get to enjoy the festivities and Christians get a reminder of their past. Everybody wins.
But neither Hanukah nor New Year’s nor Kwanzaa has ever been the point of the season. Our cities don’t lace the sidewalks with winterly decorations and welcome our children to meet a jolly fat man in preparation to celebrate Pan-African racialism. Storefronts wishing people a “Happy Holidays” because of Kwanzaa makes about as much sense as the NFL wishing people a “Happy Sporting” on Super Bowl Sunday because the local high school is hosting a soccer tournament. Should we now start wishing people a “Happy Holidays” on July 4 because “Bastille Day” is coming up on July 14? Of course not.
Christmas is the national holiday; the reason for the season. The ornaments, the lights, the music, the food, the shopping even, all reflect that. If it looks like Christmas, smells like Christmas, sounds like Christmas, then just say Christmas. It’s disingenuous (and wreaks of cognitive dissonance) for signs to wish people a “Happy Holidays” while displaying a Christmas tree, a Santa, a jingle bell and a candy cane.
Now here’s the moment where Christians typically fumble the ball and let the secularists run all over them. Like the Puritans who launched the first “War on Christmas,” the weary faithful exclaim, “But Jesus is what Christmas is about!” before going into diatribes about how Christmas trees were of pagan origin and how Santa Claus is secretly the god Odin. These merry band of puritanical elves are the ones who assert that Christmas should just be about Nativity sets and Advent calendars. “No more commercialism, just get back to Jesus,” they say.
To these Christians, I repeat what Linus says to Charlie Brown in the “Peanuts” classic airing on a TV near you this season: “You’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.”
Indeed, while the birth of Jesus Christ has taken a backseat to rampant consumerism in recent years, in no way can that be blamed on the presence of Santa or Christmas trees. The secularization of Christmas should absolutely concern us all, demanding our full commitment to making Christ’s birth its central focus; however, Christians have nothing to be ashamed of.
Firstly, Santa Claus derives from the Dutch word “Sinterklaas,” meaning St. Nicholas, not Odin. He’s a saint whose legend and ethos we’ve turned into a mascot; take ownership of that magnificent folklore and have joy. The best mascot secularists can dream up is the “Gender Unicorn,” and that hardly excites a child’s imagination as much as the saintly Claus.
Secondly, the pagan origins of the Christmas tree are up for debate; some tradition actually points it back to St. Boniface. And even if the origins were pagan, consider the symbol of the Christmas tree itself. Isn’t it fitting that we welcome the birth of Christ, whose cross is sometimes referred to as a “tree,” by adorning a freshly fertile evergreen with the finest of decorations? Besides, whatever pagan origins it may have, the Christmas tree has now been Christianized, as in baptized. Just like your wedding ring. That means all pagan associations with the yuletide and winter solstice have been washed away. So stop committing heresy by bringing up past sins to delegitimize what Christ has already redeemed.
Far from an inclusive gesture, “Happy Holidays” is a suppressive insult cooked up by rabid secularists in order to morph Christmas into a Frankenstein kind of creation that reduces the birth of Christ into a hodgepodge of incoherence. It’s about a formerly Christian nation stripping the birth of Christ from its rightful place as the season’s focus. A big bah-humbug to that.