In one of the more annoying articles I have seen lately at Christianity Today, Ted Olson complains about the people he has seen insisting that everyone say, “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” Ted is upset by those who are on the defensive in the “war on Christmas.”
If you think about the origin of the word, the secularists should object to “Happy Holidays” too, since a “holiday” was once a “holy day.” But perhaps sometimes what you don’t know can’t bother you quite as much.
Ted refers to a bumper sticker which reads “Merry Christmas! An American Tradition” and remarks snidely, “I don't remember the American part of the Christmas story, but I haven't re-read Luke 2 yet this year.” I suppose there are those who get a bit too feisty about this Christmas business. But there is something American about Christmas, or better, something Christmas about America. The first immigration group to these shores was mostly Protestant, and the second was Roman Catholic. When Christmas first started becoming the big deal it is today, it is easy to see why a country populated by these two groups might have a natural affinity for such a “holy day” – yes, even if none of this is mentioned in Luke 2, Ted.
But Ted tries to get his main anti-Christmas warrior punch from a couple of Bible-related points. The first is that Hanukkah celebrates the Jews fighting off the attempts of Antiochus IV to force Greek culture on the Jews.
The second in that Jesus, in an incident near “Hanukkah time” in His day, had a dispute with the Jews, but then “escaped” (really?) rather than “forcing the issue.” This is supposed to teach us that “To insist that non-Christians say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’ runs against the lessons of both Hanukkah stories.”
Even if some of the “Christmas warriors” are a bit over-zealous, they sometimes make a good point. That point is not to force anyone not so inclined to say “Merry Christmas.” It is, rather, to remind those that make a point of avoiding the Christ of Christmas that, without Him, there is no background or reason to have a “holy day” or in modern terms, a holiday.
That is, of course, unless you are Jewish and you are celebrating Hanukkah. But even that is still “religious” and it should still bother the secularists.
If nothing else, Christmas might just remind even the most hardened secularist that long ago, something very significant happened, the echoes of which cause people to celebrate. Even when that cause is vague or distorted in some people’s minds, it is present. Even through much distortion, it retains the power to delight or annoy based on who and what you are. It is this power, I think, which can make this seem like a war.