Why saying “Merry Christmas” is okay and not offensive or non-inclusive

Richard Dawkins, arguably the world’s most famous atheist, proudly celebrates Christmas and has even expressed his dislike  of the “holiday” euphemism, calling it  a tiresome American import.

Believe it or not, most (80% of) American atheists celebrate the Christmas holiday, as do a large number of non-Christians overall (96% of the entire US population). Us heathens even call it “Christmas”, although some jokes may be made about “Myth”mas or “Gift”mas now and again.

If you’ve been paying attention to Western culture, you might realize that Christmas is, without much doubt, its most celebrated and cherished holiday. It’s got everything: presents, food, family, friends, time off, alcohol, decorations, trees and greenery, lights, music and religious mythology. Clearly, only that very last aspect (and some of the lyrics in the music) applies to Christianity, yet still people insist that saying “Merry Christmas” is offensive or that it isn’t inclusive to non-Christians.

For many, it’s the word “Christ” in the name that is grating. It is a reminder that the term’s etymology is tied to Jesus Christ, insinuating that the holiday can only be for Christians. But, guess what? Thursday is named after the Roman god Thor, but we still all call it Thursday, not “day of the week of choice”. Halloween is named for the Roman Catholic feast of saints (All Hallows’ Eve), yet no one has trouble wishing a Happy Halloween instead of Happy Fall Holidays. The word Easter comes from the name of a pagan goddess for crying out loud, but is now associated with the Christian feast of the resurrection of Christ. So having the word “Christ” be part of a largely-secularized Western cultural holiday’s name should be no more troubling to non-Christians than any of the above examples are to anyone else.

Perhaps most interestingly, there are just as many Christians that don’t celebrate Christmas (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses, certain Protestant sects) as there are non-Christians that don’t. 73% of Hindu-Americans and 76% of Buddhist-Americans celebrate Christmas. This makes it no more or less “exclusively Christian” than other Western cultural holidays with Roman Catholic and pagan histories, particularly Halloween and Valentine’s. The cultures of Japan and India recognize Christmas, but have no beliefs in Christ. Jews often celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, but do not revere Catholic saints.

Other reasons cited for avoiding public reference to the word Christmas include the presence of many non-Christian holidays in the month of December. This is misleading, as there are no major Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu holidays in the entire month. The now-popular Jewish holiday (which sometimes occurs in November) is a very minor one within Judaism, and it has become promoted by the American culture solely because of its proximity to Christmas. In fact, Israeli Jews don’t even exchange gifts for Hanukkah. None of the actually-major Jewish holidays are recognized to the extent that Hanukkah is in American culture, and that is quite telling.

I’m not saying “happy holidays” is a bad thing, but there’s a question of why it needs to be said at Christmas but not at other popular Western cultural holidays with Christian connotations. We are human beings; we celebrate a particular holiday, not “the holidays”. Greetings like happy holidays and season’s greetings are fine to use interchangeably, but their overuse to the exclusion of Merry Christmas has made them seem too impersonal, too generic and too politically correct.

Ignoring the elephant in the room that is Christmas has gotten to a boiling point. It’s the only day of the year that the Smithsonian museum is closed, for crying out loud. It’s a really, really big holiday. We need to get over the semantics game, and just enjoy Christmas for what it is: an awesome Western cultural holiday that is worth acknowledging and celebrating, no matter what background you have or which church you do or don’t attend. Don’t be afraid to wish someone a merry one just because they might not be “Christian”.

If we’re fine saying “Halloween”, we should be fine saying “Christmas”

Question time.

What Christian holiday resulted from the Roman Catholic Church co-opting a pagan festival that marked the beginning of winter?

Christmas, you say? No—Halloween. That’s right, Halloween is a contracted form of “All Hallows’ Eve,” a Catholic holiday that was moved by the Church from mid-May to October 31 in the 8th century AD to appropriate an existing Celtic pagan holiday called Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.

“Halloween” is yet another Christianized version of a pre-Christian European pagan holiday.

With all the controversy about renaming Christmas trees to “holiday trees” or Christmas parties to “holiday parties” because Christmas is “solely for Christians,” why don’t we see any of this renaming occurring for Halloween-related things? Why does the secular world at large use a Roman Catholic-derived term to denote supposedly secular holiday activities?

Of course, Halloween in modern practice has virtually no associations with the Church whatsoever, although the day that follows it (All Hallows’ Day) still remains a religious holiday celebrated by Western Christians the world over. The only difference between Halloween and Christmas is that Christianity at large has rejected the modern secularized version of the former, but embraced the secularized version of the latter.

Why should we let Christian religious observances or lack thereof of any particular holiday dictate whether we are willing to use terms with Christian etymology? If a group of neopagans started worshipping Thursday because it was named for Thor, would that result in the society at large referring to that day as “Deityday” to avoid any association with their religious observance?

Food for thought. Please share your comments below.

Oh, and Happy Halloween (or happy late-October holiday season to those who are not Roman Catholics or Celtic pagans)!

Christmas 2012 — Jesus Christ vs. Tyr?

For many celebrants, Tyr (left) bears as much importance to the Christmas holiday as Jesus Christ (right) does.

Christmas Day in 2012 falls on a “Tuesday”, the English-language word for the second (or third) day of the week named for the Norse-pagan deity Tyr (also called Tiews, Tiw, Ziu and Cyo).

We all call this day of the week “Tuesday” without believing in Tyr—including Christians—so it follows that we can all celebrate Christmas as a joyful winter holiday on December 25 without believing in its namesake, Jesus Christ. Except for some of the music and the nativity scenes, there is nothing about Christmas that is inherently Christian.

It is well-understood that the Roman Catholic Church placed the holiday at the winter solstice as a likely attempt to co-opt the existing pagan holiday of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birth of the unconquered sun god) to easier convert pagans of the time. Whether the Church intended it or not, this supplantation resulted in the paganization of one of their most holy feasts (Easter, itself even more pagan, is a whole other story).

What does awkwardly excising the word “Christmas” from songs accomplish?

Below, American schoolchildren sing a bastardized version of Sir Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” song, with the much-expected but still appalling alteration of the word “Christmas” to “holiday”.

Seriously, who the hell comes up with this stuff, much less approves it? Just like the lyrics to Lennon’s “Imagine” shouldn’t be changed to make them pro-religion, the lyrics to Christmas carols shouldn’t be messed with. Imagine schools changing lyrics to Hanukkah songs to make them generic, or those from any other culture. This isn’t the only example of such lunacy, but it is of particular note that the parent of the girl featured in this video (the uploader) is an atheist, and made this comment in the description:

Caitlyn and her friends sing “Three Little Birds” and “Simply Having A Wonderful [Holiday] Time” (even as a little atheist, Caitlyn thought the substitution for the word Christmas was a bit ridiculous).

The reason behind regrettable decisions like this (in the U.S. at least; this has also occurred in Canada and Australia) is typically a combination of overreaching political correctness and fear of litigation due to a perceived violation of the Establishment Clause. The latter is totally unfounded, as the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that Christmas music and decoration is fine—even if it is explicitly religious—so long as secular themes are included in the overall presentation. Yes, that means that even nativity scenes are conditionally fine in schools, yet we are seeing completely secular Christmas songs having that offending word removed.

What do you think the driving reason is behind these kinds of occurrences? Is it political correctness? White guilt? Faux-multiculturalism? Fear of ligitation? Add your opinion to the comments below.