Season's greetings and happy holidays!
Oh, I know that all-purpose salutation makes some people squirm. They are the ones who believe we need to be militantly Merry Christmasing everyone in sight.
This determined effort to make Merry Christmas the only "correct" holiday greeting gives it a confrontational edge: "Merry Christmas. You got something to say about that?"
Likewise, the Christmas-only crowd has cowed people to the point that they can feel apologetic for straying from the approved text: "I hope your season is bright. Oh, sorry, I didn't really mean that."
This annual battle over seasonal greetings has evolved into what has been labeled a culture war with some Christians claiming that evil secular humanists are trying to banish any mention of Christmas in the public square. We hear ominous warnings about those who want to “steal Christmas” or about atheistic storm troopers descending on our cities to stomp on our crèches.
While all this might seem like a minor skirmish — and a petty one at that — it is part of a larger battle, a crusade to ensure that one religion dominates the popular culture — preferably to the exclusion of all others. In other words, it's a very un-American campaign.
The goal is to tamp down our all-American pluralistic impulses and to assert the false premise that we have an official state religion even if the Constitution says we don't. And the Merry Christmasers are serious about trying to make others toe the line.
For example, in November, the Mississippi-based American Family Association called for a two-month boycott against Gap Inc., the giant clothier whose brands include Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, because the company failed to use the word “Christmas” in its seasonal advertising. In truth, though, the AFA got it wrong; Gap does use the word “Christmas” in its latest 30-second ad, which plays regularly on TV and can be viewed on YouTube.
The ad features dancing, twirling young people chanting: “Go Christmas, go Hanukkah, go Kwanzaa, go solstice … Do whatever you wannukkah and to all a cheery night.”
In other words, the company wants to acknowledge we're not all Christians and to be solicitous of those who aren't. Then maybe people of all faiths will buy Gap blue jeans, sweaters and scarves like those worn by the attractive dancers in the ad.
December is, indeed, chock full of religious holidays. Tuesday was Bodhi Day, the Buddhist celebration of the time when Prince Gautama took a seat beneath the Bodhi tree, vowing to stay there until he reached enlightenment.
Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sunset today. Dec. 18 is Hijra, the beginning of the Islamic new year. Dec. 21, the winter solstice, is the day the Wiccans celebrate the Yuletide. And Dec. 26 is Zarathosht Diso, the day the Zoroastrians commemorate the death of the Prophet Zarathushtra.
Oh, and Dec. 25 is Christmas, as usual.
This so-called culture war is not really about maintaining the sanctity of Christmas or saving the holiday from the heathens. Christmas will continue to dominate in all its tacky glory.
If the Merry Christmasers were so intent on protecting the sacred meaning of Christmas, why do they let it be used to sell everything tinsel to toenail clippers, most of it made in China?
The American Family Association and its ilk fight the Christmas culture wars with a two-edged sword. The more they succeed in depicting Christmas as a universal holiday to which all should pay obeisance, the more they risk diminishing the true meaning of Christmas and turning it into another meaningless secular holiday in which the baby Jesus takes a back seat to Santa, sleigh bells, shiny bows and singing chipmunks.
Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends and happy holidays to the rest of you. You got something to say about that?