Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy Holidays

December is upon us again, and that means another month of faux-outrage about people opting for a more ecumenical holiday greeting. This "debate" has been exposed for the fraud that it is so many times that I won't attempt to reinvent the wheel. Rather, I want to use it as a jumping-off point for something that's been on my mind lately.

This is a card that my grandfather sent my grandmother in the early 1920s. My mom gave me a copy of this card a few years ago, along with the rest of my grandparents' love letters. As you can see, my grandfather did not get it from exotic locale; he was in central Utah at the time. Yet the card refers to God as "Allah." I have no idea whether it was vogue in those days to use foreign and poetic names for God, but I could never imagine finding a card with a message like that in Hallmark now.

I brought up my grandparents' card to illustrate the point that our choice of words can become an intensely political act. During WWII, patriotism changed the name of a patty of ground beef from a hamburger to a salisbury steak. Who can forget the menu change at the eatery of the U.S. Capitol during the run-up to the Iraq War--would you like freedom fries with that? In both of these examples, words that had lost all ties with their etymological origins were yoked with those meanings again to serve a political end. While using Allah to refer to God was no big deal in central Utah in the 1920s, the same word now bears a lot more political baggage.

The political end of War on Christmas is similar to the other examples I've given. Christmas has become an inclusive holiday. To quote one of my former professors, "Merry Christmas" usually means "Merry Gift-Purchasing, Gift-Giving, and Gift-Receiving Holiday When We Also Watch the Detroit Lions, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Aloha Bowl on TV after unwrapping presents and eating fattening food." By insisting that retailers use Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings, the generals in the war on Christmas are trying to remove the secular meaning of the word. Now when someone says "Merry Christmas," they want the meaning to be "Merry Commemoration of the Birth of God Incarnate Was Crucified for Sins of the World and Rose from the Dead on the Third Day." In other words, the word Christmas is being used to communicate Christian dominance rather than Christian love.

In spite of this, I will continue to say "Merry Christmas," though perhaps with an occasional "Happy Holidays" thrown in for good measure. I choose to do this because I believe that when people hear "Merry Christmas," they don't think of shopping or the birth of God, but rather many would hear "Merry season where we make an extra effort to be kind and recognize that we're all people worthy of respect and love." Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.


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