Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Who's in charge here?!

It's always funny when the Bush Administration gets the talking points a little bit too late:

This month, as in every December since he took office, President Bush sent out cards with a generic end-of-the-year message, wishing 1.4 million of his close friends and supporters a happy "holiday season."

Many people are thrilled to get a White House Christmas card, no matter what the greeting inside. But some conservative Christians are reacting as if Bush stuck coal in their stockings.

Whoops! Look what happens when Mr. Rove is otherwise occupied.

This whole "War on Christmas" thing is just absurd, folks. America is a nation that is constantly changing, and it simply is no longer a country where you can just assume that any person you meet is a Christian who is going to be in the exact same place you are on Christmas eve, doing the exact same things, drinking the exact same eggnog and singing the exact same hymns. That America is gone (if it ever really existed at all). We're a land of Christians and Muslims, and Jews, and Wiccans, and atheists, and Buddhists, and whatever else, and this whole thing on the Right -- "You will celebrate this season in the way that we will tell you to celebrate it" -- is nauseating. Especially when they get indignant about the Christmas tree, which was originally a pagan tradition adopted by Christians in Germany in the 1600s to celebrate not the birth of Christ, but "the annual Feast of Adam and Eve" -- something the Jews and Muslims might also celebrate. America isn't the 1950s Norman Rockwell painting anymore. Like it or not, America has become a place where "Merry Christmas" no longer applies to everyone.

Now, the fact is, I don't much like the phrases "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings", because they just feel trite, and not in a PC way, either. The alliteration in "Happy Holidays" bugs me, and if I'm greeting someone whose religious background I do not know, I like to actually say "Have a joyous holiday". I see nothing wrong here -- "Joyous" is a word with more emotional heft than "Happy" (did Beethoven set an "Ode to Happiness"? Nope!), and "Holiday" is a perfectly respectable word, being an etymological descendant of "Holy Day". It seems to me that saying "Whatever holy day you are celebrating, may it be a joyous one", albeit in fewer words, isn't anti-Christmas, and it certainly isn't anti-American: in fact, I think it's a good illustration of what America is all about. It celebrates pluralism, and that American ideal of people of many cultures coming together; and if that sounds anti-American to you, well, maybe you ought to take it up with the Founding Fathers, who put that exact sentiment in Latin -- E pluribus unum -- onto our nation's Great Seal.

I do say "Merry Christmas" to people I know to be Christian, or to people I may know to not be Christian but who still celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is, in fact, entirely possible: one can honor Jesus and his message without necessarily being Christian. (Every January, after all, I honor Martin Luther King, and I'm not black.) But it doesn't do to assume that all people celebrate the winter season in the same way, and for the same reasons. I like the way "Merry Christmas" sounds: it's got this antiquated feel that "Happy Holidays" completely lacks. "Merry" is a word that isn't much used to describe emotional states these days, and in fact, I'd be willing to bet that if I could somehow tally every use I've ever made of the word "Merry", they've fallen into exactly two categories: use as part of "Merry Christmas", and to refer to a certain character in The Lord of the Rings.

Whenever I hear someone from the Right calling for a strict return to "Merry Christmas", I get this distinct dictatorial vibe: "You will treat everyone around you, and be treated yourself, as a Christian." The one-size-fits-all approach to Christmas is, in my view, demeaning to America and demeaning to Christ. I'm not playing along.

So, to all my readers: I wish you all the most joyous of Holidays.

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