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Sunday, November 24, 2019

"Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays"

Originally written in 2015

I think the ongoing "debate" of "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" is one of the most pointless arguments and does nothing more than anger people when it should be a time of thanks and joy. I use both terms, sometimes interchangeably, and I have done so all my life. There are a lot of holidays between November and January 1. Sometimes under certain circumstances, it's just more convenient to wish Happy Holidays for the whole season (or "seasons greetings," how come no one seems to have a problem with that?). On a specific date, it makes more sense to give a greeting for the day. What matters is that people are friendly, civil and cordial. If you don't like the way someone greeted you, then it's your problem. That's how I feel about it.

I also think that officially renaming a Christmas Tree to a Holiday Tree is ridiculous.  If you want to call your own personal tree a Holiday Tree, that's fine but leave other people out of it. The Christian practice of bringing trees into homes was started in the 16th century in Germany and it was associated with Christmas. It became popular outside of Germany in the second half of the 19th century; a pretty short time in historical terms. Its name implies exactly what it was meant to be; a tree for Christmas. Historically, it's also been called a Yule Tree, so I would consider that acceptable. I would never expect this to be renamed, much as I wouldn't expect artifacts or symbols of any other religion to be renamed.

Christmas is a convoluted holiday. Its origins are pre-Christ, based on pagan and other winter celebrations, both relgious .and non-religious There is evidence that December 25 is nowhere near Christ's actual birth date, and the tale of Santa bringing gifts, or the modern custom of exchanging gifts, has nothing to do with Jesus being born. You could even argue that Christians "stole" the previous celebrations and turned them into their own holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many traditions that we now have around Christmas were borrowed from other, older winter celebrations, such as Italian Saturnalia and the Norse Yule season.  In early America, it was more of a raucous holiday and even outlawed in Boston for several decades, for religious reasons!  It was also common for gangs to riot during the Christmas season.  That began to change in the early 1800's, thanks to writings by Washington Irving and Charles Dickens, who envisioned a more peaceful and family-oriented holiday. Today, around the whole world, Christmas is celebrated for different reasons and with different traditions. Obviously, here in the U.S., it's a combination of a religious holiday, federal holiday (since 1870), giant marketing scheme, and a day for family, big meals, and exchanging gifts. The U.S. is a free country. Some see Christmas as a religious day and some as a secular holiday. No one should limit how or even if other people observe the holiday, or how they should greet each other for the season or the day. Thus I object to any attempts to officially rename a Christmas tree, much as I object to people having a hissy-fit over how a friendly greeting is given.

Here is a great article about the history of Christmas: