I have been thinking a lot lately about the "war on Christmas" narrative that stems from the changes taking place in our culture. I'm moving towards the conclusion that the controversy is less illustrative of a declaration against something than it is a surrender to emptiness.
And it's not the Christians I'm worried about.
Each year I, like you, get a plethora of commercial greetings cards that wish me "Happy Holidays." The desk staff at last week's hotel wished me the same, as did the security guards at the airports. So did the flight attendant. Pretty much everyone involved in a public role used the same phrase. My regular cabbie, on the other hand, is a Muslim and he wished me "Merry Christmas."
I like "Merry Christmas" better because it shows that the greeter is conscious of the fact the day is an occasion rich with religious meaning that in turn has fuelled the promotion of culturally virtuous behaviours in all societies. Saying "Merry Christmas" does not impose an obligation on non-believers to celebrate the birth of Christ but the day has by tradition instructed all of us to share in wishes of peace and goodwill. And while many of us believe to our core in the profundity of the birth moment and the personal salvation it brings, the broader wishes of peace and goodwill remain—one hopes—worthy of being embraced across the spectrum of society.
Stripping the greeting down to the bare bones of "Happy Holidays" does not just mask the religious meaning of the day to make it acceptable in a secular society; it buries the a-religious cultural understanding of Christmas as the one day on the statutory holiday calendar that is uniquely dedicated to the promotion of peace and goodwill among us.
No doubt this is what British Prime Minister David Cameron was trying to get at last week when he said, "the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today" and that ". . . many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all."
Modern society's clumsy understanding of tolerance and openness has led to a practice that obviously has hurt some Christians who are confused as to why mention of their important celebration is the only one deemed capable of causing offense (hey, we were told from the start that it was not going to be easy).
What is worse, however, is that that same confusion has suppressed celebration and promotion of the universally virtuous.
"Happy Holidays" is intended to be pleasant. But when all is said and done and regardless of its intentions, the phrase is capable of little more than imparting the remnant embers of a greeting once rich with good wishes.
Me? I sincerely hope that this week you—friend and foe alike—will be happy celebrating with me a day that I believe changed the world; I share God's hope that we will be good to each other and that we can live together in peace.
In other words, Merry Christmas.