December 23, 2013

"Happy Holidays"

Over the past few years, it seems, I've heard more and more people complaining about the so-called "War on Christmas". Atheist groups would like to remove Nativity scenes (among other religious symbols) from public spaces, and children in public schools are being asked not to sing religious songs as part of their school pageants. These and other things have caused quite a stir among Christians who fear that our nation is being "de-Christianized" because their traditions are being laid aside in favor of those that are more inclusive to other faiths.

One of the biggest complaints I've seen is from those who are offended that many people working in stores are being asked to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" to their customers.

I've heard some Christians make this into a big deal because they believe this is somehow infringing on their freedom to express their beliefs. And I have to admit that, at first, I was a little put off when I heard or saw the alternate greeting because I bought the line that this was some form of religious persecution...

But the more I've thought about it, the more I like the "Happy Holidays" greeting (or at least I've come to peace with it) and I'd like to share with you my reasons why.

First of all - and this is the most obvious reason - I am not so naive as to believe that Christmas is the only holiday that falls during this time of year, nor do I believe that we as Christians should have a monopoly on festive celebrations!

The fact is, whether you like it or not, that there are people in this world (and likely in your own neighborhood) who are not Christians. Not only that, but (prepare yourself) some of them are even of another faith besides Christianity, and Christmas is not a part of their heritage!
  • Would I like for everyone to enjoy the celebration of the holiday that commemorates the birth of our Savior? YES! 
  • Would I like for every person in the world to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as their Lord and Savior? ABSOLUTELY!
  • Will forcing non-Christians to wish me "Merry Christmas" accomplish this? NO WAY!

In fact, if you haven't noticed yet, whenever you shove something down someone's throat, it doesn't tend to make them love it as much as it tends to make them want to... regurgitate! If you want to spread the Christian faith, then, forcing it upon them might not be as effective as, I don't know, living a daily life that is transformed by the message of Christmas and being prepared to give an answer when people ask for the reason for the hope that is within you! Tell people about Jesus, by all means, but remember, you'll catch a lot more flies with honey than you will with vinegar!

So while I always like to hear Merry Christmas, I'm not at all opposed to telling people that I hope they're happy while they celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever they like because, in the spirit of Christ, I do wish for peace and happiness for others, even if we may never see eye to eye. I wish no ill-will toward people of other faiths, even if I think they're wrong, because I believe firmly that God loves them so much that he sent his Son to die for them just as much as for me.

That's the central message of Christmas, isn't it? - that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son for anyone who would turn to him, regardless of who they are or where they came from. God sent his Son for us before we believed in him - knowing that many would reject him - so that whoever would believe would be saved. And if I truly believe that, then I have to be tolerant and loving toward others, because I have to believe that God is still reaching out to them - maybe even through me - just as he reached out to me! In the name of the peace and love of God, I wish my neighbors happiness, no matter what holiday they might celebrate!

But the second, perhaps less obvious reason I've learned to be happy with "Happy Holidays" is because I started to realize that even for Christians, there is more than one holiday to celebrate during this season!
  • In the church, we begin the season of Advent four Sundays before Christmas. Advent, historically, is a time to focus not just on the fact that Christ came at Christmas, but on the fact that Christ has promised to return, and we look forward to his coming kingdom!
  • In many countries, December 5th or 6th is celebrated as the feast of Saint Nicholas (the 4th century priest who was so transformed by the message of Christ that he was moved to legendary acts of great generosity). For more on Saint Nicholas, you may like this recent post on my other blog.
  • Christmas Day, on the Christian calendar, is really the first day of Christmastide. Many people think the song "The 12 Days of Christmas" refers to the 12 days leading up to Christmas Day, but that's actually backwards. In fact, many cultures make a big deal out of each of the 12 days starting with Christmas Day and leading up to January 6th. During this time, they set celebrate many of the saints of old and stories from the Bible - like Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is recorded in the book of Acts.
  • January 6th is often referred to as Epiphany or Theophany. In Eastern Christianity, they use this time to focus on the significance of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. In the West, we use this day to remember the Magi who visited baby Jesus in Matthew 2, which highlights again the important message that Jesus came not just for a few people, but for the whole world!

Not to mention, many churches are in the habit of hosting special services for the New Year...

And this, really, is just the tip of the iceberg! I don't have near enough space or time here to go into all the details of all the many celebrations Christians in different places have during this time of the year around the world! When you really get down to it, then, just about every day from Thanksgiving until after the New Year is a holy day for us as Christians! How can we be offended when someone wishes us happiness in the midst of all our various holidays?!

Oh, there may very well be a "War on Christmas". I don't doubt for one minute that there are those who would love to silence the Gospel message in any way they can! But during this most holy season, I refuse to let anyone steal my joy by wishing me "Happy Holidays", and in fact, I see that expression as a beautiful thing!

So MERRY CHRISTMAS! to you, if you celebrate Christmas...

And regardless of what your beliefs are, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! to you, as well!!!

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