I don’t really do Halloween. And, as a permanent resident of the United States whose whole family hails from across the ocean, I don’t really celebrate Thanksgiving, either. Which means that, for me, Christmas starts in October.
Yes, I’m one of those people. For me, Christmas isn’t just a holiday, but a season. I start brainstorming gifts when the leaves begin to turn. I sing carols as soon as the air starts to sting. I’m currently reading three books about Christmas, and yes, it’s still November. I love Advent, and Christmas sermons, and Christmas Eve services. Let’s put it this way: I love Christmas.
So it is with all the festive and holiday sweater-clad love in my heart that I say to you: there is no war on Christmas.
For some of you, this is a total non-issue. Of course there is no war on Christmas – have you seen the malls lately? This whole country goes Christmas-crazy every year, and any attempt to make this season a little less exclusive and alienating for our non-Christian friends is a step in the right direction. Duh.
But others may disagree. With the ushering in of Starbucks’ new red cups (without snowflakes or ornaments on them, gasp) and the annual debate over saying ‘Happy Holidays’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas,’ you may feel that you are being overlooked, insulted, or even “persecuted“.
I’m really sorry you feel that way. But as a Christian and a Christmas-lover, I feel pretty strongly that you’re wrong. Here’s why.
Walk into any mall, store, or café in America in the days after Thanksgiving and a few things will jump out at you. Christmas music; sparkling winter decorations; maybe a dancing Santa Claus robot, which might quite literally jump out at you (I am not a fan of these robots. They scare and annoy me). ‘Holiday sales,’ a Nativity scene, or a live Santa meet-and-greet. All these things are signs of Christmas – some even arriving as early in the year as late October. Signs of Christmas that are done quite publicly, to benefit you and people who celebrate your holiday.
Christmas in America is everywhere. It is unavoidable. And for people who do not celebrate Christmas – our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, pagan, and other friends and neighbors – this month of decorations and cheesy Christmas music can feel alienating. It can serve as a reminder that, in this country that preaches tolerance and religious freedom, they are seen as ‘other.’
In the month of December in the United States, Christmas and Christians are seen and reinforced as the norm. The fact that we are having a conversation about ‘The War on Christmas’ at all, and not about ‘The War on Diwali’ or ‘The War on Eid’ (when was the last time your barista wished you “Eid Mubarak?”) should remind us of this. Even if the majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, that does not mean that Christians have earned a monopoly on the month of December. We should remember that America is a country known for its pluralism and ideals of toleration, and honor that. And if that means that a well-meaning Starbucks barista says ‘Happy Holidays’ to you, rather than ‘Merry Christmas,’ then so be it.
So let’s quickly address some of the more common complaints around this time of year.
- On ‘Happy Holidays’. Winter is a holiday-heavy time. From Hanukkah to Kwanzaa to New Years’ to the Winter Solstice, there are many, many holidays celebrated around this time of year that are not Christmas. Acknowledging this fact, and the fact that your neighbor, police officer, or check-out person may not celebrate the same holiday that you do, is a sign of courtesy. If someone says ‘Happy Holidays’ to you, it’s not because they’re trying to insult you. It’s because they are trying to say something nice to you. Please be nice back by not correcting them, insulting them, or going on a rant about somebody’s agenda. There is no agenda. They just want to wish you a nice day. Do the same.
- On the removal of Nativity scenes in schools and government buildings. The government is not persecuting you. It is simply upholding the law by not favoring one religion over another. That is its job.
- On the red cups ‘controversy’. Starbucks is only trying to be more inclusive to those of their customers who do not celebrate Christmas. They still sell Advent calendars and peppermint-flavored lattes, and play Christmas music over the loudspeaker, so you can go there and feel marketed towards to your heart’s content. And if you need a cup to make your Christmas feel complete, as someone wiser and funnier than I has said, “honey, it’s you who needs Jesus.”
There is no war on Christmas. What is happening instead is the acknowledgement that not everyone in this country is Christian, that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that as a result, we need to make some changes in how we celebrate this “season” so that we don’t alienate the many loyal, kind, good-hearted Americans of other religious traditions. That’s a beautiful thing, and at its heart, it is an American thing. Because one of the beautiful things about America is our diversity, and the values of religious freedom and tolerance that we claim to hold so dear.
Christmas is meant to be a time of peace and joy. So let’s extend that peace and joy to our non-Christian friends this year by not forcing our holidays on them; by wishing them a happy holidays if they are celebrating something; and by valuing the small choices that some companies and people make when trying to let all Americans feel welcomed this December, regardless of religion.
Thanks, and Happy Holidays!