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”.