Ok. I’ll just say it. I’m a Merry Christmas person. I say, “Merry Christmas.” It’s my culture.
To be clear, my religion is Baseball. My Holy Days are known as the World Series. They start in late October, and they are made more holy when the ordained priests of my order, the Yankees, are playing. I hope some day to make a pilgrimmage with my writing partner, Holmes, to The Cathedral in the Bronx to attend a ceremony in person, both for the religious experience and to write The Canter-Bronxy Tales.
The Cathedral in the Bronx at Christmas
To me, Christmas is about the Spirit of Giving. The generosity and mercy that light hope in hearts during the darkest time of the year. I know Muslims, Jews, and Wiccans who have Christmas trees and wish people Merry Christmas because to them, as to me, generosity and mercy have no religion. For us, it’s just part of our Western cultural tradition.
I find it painfully ironic that there are as many non-Christians campaigning to make Jesus ”the reason for the season” as there are Christians. So when I became embroiled in a Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays discussion at my daughter’s school the other day, it inspired me to perform my own little sociological experiment. (Watch out. She’s messing with people again.) Here’s how it went down. . . .
Five people were standing in the front office of my daughter’s middle school when the school counselor said, ”Happy Holidays.”
I smiled and returned a hearty, ”Merry Christmas.” Three people relaxed, smiled back, and returned the traditional greeting.
In a friendly, educational tone, as is appropriate at a school, the counselor informed me, “Not everyone celebrates Christmas.”
This got me to thinking. . . . If I were a member of an indigenous culture that worshipped water buffalo, and I wished Merry Christmas objectors a Happy Water Buffalo Day, would they inform me that they don’t worship water buffalo? Or would they recognize that I am blessing them with good will and the best of intentions in the manner of my people?
Little Girl wishing baby water buffalo a Happy Water Buffalo Day
To answer this question, I decided I would spend a day greeting people with religious good wishes that were not of Christian origin, just to see what they would do. There are no water buffalo in the Rockies so in honor of my Wiccan friends who have a holy day tomorrow, I went around town wishing people a Happy Solstice as I ran my errands. I didn’t mutter it. I didn’t pick and choose who I said it to. I smiled, looked everyone in the eye, and spoke with confidence, just as I would have said Merry Christmas in the middle of a tent revival. This is what I found with my limited sampling of approximately 17 people. . . .
- All but two looked at me like I was a talking frog.
- The two who didn’t were people who know me. . . . Hmm. Why weren’t they surprised?
- Most women recovered, smiled back, and said, ”Thank you,” or “You, too.”
- Men alone also recovered and said, “Thank you.”
- Men in groups continued staring as if I was a talking frog and said nothing. . . . Hmm. Waiting for an Alpha to act, I suppose.
- And the school counselor? She stopped, pointed her finger at me, smiled, and said, “Thank you.” The next day, she even returned my daughter’s Happy Solstice with a Happy Solstice of her own. (Yes, I had to bribe my daughter to do this.)
Interestingly, not one single person became offended or informed me that they do not celebrate the Solstice.
The Beautiful Darkness. The Celebration of Light. Stonehenge
This little experiment led my mind to literal meanings. (Quick, call her 12-Step sponsor. She put on her attorney hat.) Christmas originated as “Christ’s Mass” so shouldn’t it be a purely Catholic holiday? Also, “holidays” means, literally, “holy days,” so isn’t Happy Holidays just as objectionable as Merry Christmas? I mean, if I’m implying that everyone I speak to is or should be a Christian when I say Merry Christmas, which I’m not, by the way, am I not also implying that everyone does or should have holy days when I wish them Happy Holidays? You see, taken literally, Christmas is something Protestants don’t celebrate at all, and Happy Holidays is no more “culturally sensitive” than Merry Christmas.
Kind of makes you wonder what ”Merry Christmas” really means in modern society. Please help me out here. What does “Merry Christmas” mean to you? Is it a cultural expression or a religious one?
For extra credit, I’m challenging you brave readers to walk through your town today wishing people a Happy Solstice, since the 21st is, after all, the Winter Solstice. In fact, it’s not just the Solstice, it’s the Solstice with a full lunar eclipse. (Click here for info.) Then, please let me know what you discover about the people around you and how they respond to your warm wishes of the season.
Oh, . . . And I learned one more thing with my little experiment. My son might actually be able to die of embarrassment because of things his mother does in public. (Nope. Couldn’t bribe him.)
If you’d like a simple way to celebrate the Spirit of Giving, Andi, who lost her home in the Four Mile Canyon fire in Boulder in September, is asking for Christmas cards for her little dog, Nellie, to cheer them on their journey through their post-apocalyptic world. Andi writes about The Poetry of Loss at her blog, Burning Down the House. To send a card to Nellie and Andi, please address it to Princess Nellie; c/o Chautauqua Main Office; 900 Baseline Road; Boulder, CO 80302.
All the best to all of you for a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Happy Solstice, a Peaceful, Joyful Season, or just a really nice day.
Piper Bayard–The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse
“You only have to do one thing to be friends with me. Be nice.” — Holmes