Your guide to modern holiday etiquette

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Every December, it seems, traditionalists mount a "Campaign to Save Christmas" from the forces of darkness who want to make it a cultural crime to utter aloud those accursed words, "Merry Christmas."

I suspect these are also the people who feel "their" country and culture are slowly slipping away and they're hanging on for dear life. They don't mind diversity as long as it keeps its place — which is in the minority. All they ask is the assurance that America will forever remain majority white, majority English-speaking, and majority Christian.

So they get touchy about perceived pressure to use the more multiculturally sensitive, sanctity-sanitized greeting "Happy Holidays." Actually, commercial capitalism has been doing a fine job of draining the holiness from Christmas for a long, long time, but Christmas traditionalists seem to think Christianity and Capitalism are perfectly compatible. The very figure of Santa Claus fuses Saintly Nicholas with mass production of consumer goodies.

Nonetheless, every year for at least 20 years, complaints are dutifully lodged as if they were the first to uncover an ungodly Christdismiss conspiracy and sounding the alarm that political correctness is, like the Grinch, stealing the holiday altogether.

Never mind that you can't go shopping anywhere from Nov. 1 on without getting an earful of Bethlehem, angels, round yon virgins, mangers, stables, stars, magi, certain poor shepherds, midnights clear and, of course, the infant deity himself. If "they" are so determined to take Christ out of Christmas, they're not making much headway, judging by the dominant message in Merchantland, which is clearly "Jesus Christ is coming to town."

But the world has indeed changed, and Christmas ain't the whole ball of wax anymore, so here's how the new holiday etiquette works: If you see me on the street and feel like wishing me "Merry Christmas!" right out loud, go right ahead. Doesn't bother me a bit. In fact, I appreciate the spirit behind it. You don't have to wink and whisper it like some password to a secret society.


Personally, I would prefer that you wait until Dec. 1 to start doing so — or at the very earliest the day after Thanksgiving. This year Thanksgiving came early, so we had a full 32 days before Christmas Day. Some of us just can't sustain seasonality for more than a month. So if we snarl or gripe about hearing "Santa Baby" more than a dozen times before Nov. 15, we're really not being all that Scrooge-like. There is a saturation point. No matter how faithful you are, one more Top-40 superstar sleepwalking through an uninspired rendition of "Silent Night" is going to lose some of its luster.

Seasonal greetings, on the other hand, work both ways. If you wish someone "Merry Christmas" and they wish you "Happy Hanukkah," don't let it bother you. It would be inconsistent, to say the least, if it did. It's also out of synch with the Christmas spirit (Peace on earth, goodwill to men — and women) if you read some ulterior motive into the more ecumenical "Happy Holidays," a simple acknowledgement that there is more than one celebration this time of year and not everyone you run into is Christian.


Happy Holidays, in other words, is not Christdismissive. It's Christinclusive.

You can still say "Merry Christmas." Just don't expect everyone else to say it. I happen to agree with Scrooge on this point: Let us keep Christmas in our own way.

If someone chooses, for example, not to focus on God entering the world in human form, but instead celebrates the birth of a great man who preached a radical message of universal love, that doesn't take anything away from your observance of this religious (and secular) holiday. You can still tell the story your way. Jesus, I suspect, would like both renditions — maybe all tellings — as long as the story focuses on hope and keeps love at its center.

If all this means you can't put up a crèche in front of the local courthouse because the courthouse serves people of all, or no, religion, well, I think Christmas will survive somehow. Besides, it's more genuinely Christian to recognize that you live in a diverse world and that maybe we need to stop practicing King-of-the-Hill Christianity. Instead, practice Prince-of-Peace Seasonality. I'm pretty sure Jesus would approve.

It might help to keep in mind that other people don't need to believe what you believe in order to validate your beliefs. But if you insist on telling your version, they won't listen unless it sounds like "good news." That's how human beings are. Jesus understood that.

So Happy Hanukkah, Happy Eid, Happy Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy Holidays. Oh, and lest I forget, Merry Christmas. May your days be merry and bright, and, frankly, it's really not important if all your Christmases are white — or English-speaking, or even Christian.

P.S. Merry New Year, too.


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