Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

This has become a battleground the last few years, with most Christians on one side and secularists on the other. So just for the fun of it I’m going to jump into the fray.

First, let’s look at “Happy Holidays”. Is there anything wrong with this greeting? Well, first we need to find out just what the “holidays” part of the greeting is referring to.

Assuming the common understanding of popular culture the “holidays” referred to is Christmas and New Years with the “eves” of both days thrown in. However, from a true Catholic perspective the “holidays” or “holy-days” would really be Christmas (which includes Christmas Eve) through perhaps the Feast of the Epiphany or the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas”.

Either way, I see nothing wrong with wishing folks a “happy” anything be they the secular idea of Christmas and New Year’s, or the special days on the liturgical calendar.

But of course, what the “Merry Christmas” advocates have in mind is that “Happy Holidays” is being used by secularists to keep Christ out of the deal. This may or may not be true. Bing Crosby was singing “Happy Holidays” in the 40’s along with “White Christmas”. But let’s assume that the Christians are right about the secular conspiracy to keep Christ out of Christmas.

The question then becomes at what point on the calendar do we begin wishing folks a “Merry Christmas”? I have a protestant friend who claims that the Christmas Season begins on December 1. Others say “after Thanksgiving”. What should be the Catholic answer? When should we begin saying “Merry Christmas”?

Well, if you’ve read any of my other related entries on this topic, you know that I’m a stickler for “Advent” and for the keeping of Advent in a sort of “opposition to the world” sort of way.

As you know Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. So should we as Catholics be saying Merry Christmas when it is not only NOT Christmas, but also because we are in fact in the middle of a penitential season?

I don’t think there is any papal bull on the topic so I believe we are free to fumble around for the answer for ourselves. And here’s what I’ve come up with:

To Catholics I say (during Advent) “Have a Blessed Advent”. To non-Catholics I don’t say anything other than “hello” and “good bye”. Or if it gets close to Christmas I say “Have a Merry Christmas if I don’t see you” – thus projecting the greeting correctly into the future where it belongs.

Now if someone wishes me “Happy Holidays” I DO NOT say “Merry Christmas” back to them as if in protest or with a corrective tone.. Obviously that is just bad form and uncharitable to boot. So I say “thank you” or “the same to you”.

Lastly, I begin saying “Merry Christmas” on Christmas Eve and on through to the Epiphany. While the liturgical calendar shows that the real Christmas Season goes from Christmas Eve to the Baptism of our Lord, and thus we could technically (and liturgically) greet our fellow believers with a “Merry Christmas” right on into February, I think that we should at least do it until the Feast of the Epiphany or right on through the Twelve Days of Christmas.

So rather than put so much energy into battling with the “Happy Holidays” crowd before Christmas (Day), let’s just say “Merry Christmas” when we’re supposed to and thus give true witness to the Church that decided when Christmas would be in the first place.

Well, “Have a Blessed Advent” and “Merry Christmas if I don’t see you”.

Tim Rohr
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