For nine years, I’ve avoided weighing in on the annual brouhaha over how we greet each other during the Yuletide holidays.
With good reason. You’ll notice that I couldn’t even get through that opening sentence without making a choice about what to call the festive season around the winter solstice. I opted for “Yuletide” – an accurate term, if somewhat pagan.
But then, decorated trees, mistletoe, Yule logs, and other customs – long since incorporated into the modern Christmas – have pagan roots. So I’ll go with Yuletide.
At any rate, in recent years, there’s been an annual controversy over Yuletide greetings. Which is curious, when you think about it.
We have no problem wishing each other “Happy Valentine’s” or “A Glorious Fourth.” But come Yuletide, the Grinch seems to come out in a lot of otherwise decent people.
And frankly, I’m sick of it.
Personally, I don’t much care what someone says in wishing me well over the Yuletide holidays. I’m not religious, but I still associate the season with the Advent rituals of my Methodist upbringing.
I also associate it with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve done two productions of that story – both as Scrooge. After each performance, I felt lighter, more joyful, and more at peace. Somehow, transforming myself into this bitter, angry man for a couple of hours, night after night, allowed me to put all of the frustrations of the day into my performance. By the end of the show, I felt cleansed.
So for me, personally, “Merry Christmas” works just fine. I even like “God bless us, every one.”
But other greetings work, too. Mr. Dickens had the right idea. Every year, for a few very special weeks, we enjoy a wonderful opportunity look beyond ourselves – our busy, worried, fearful, narcissistic selves. We get to share in a festive season of generosity and goodwill.
You could call that a miracle. At any rate, I’d hate to do without it.
Which is why I resent the latter-day Grinches who befoul the season of goodwill by insisting that some nefarious, unnamed group has declared a “War on Christmas.”
The defenders of Christmas use the usual outlets – cable TV, AM radio, and the less charitable pulpits – to persuade millions of decent people that someone, somewhere is trying to destroy Christmas.
And the conspiracy’s stealthy, secret weapon is?
Yep. Somehow, this neutral, inclusive seasonal greeting has become a shibboleth. If you say, “Merry Christmas,” you’re on God’s side. If you say, “Happy Holidays,” you’re either waging war on Christmas – or you’re a fellow traveler, a dupe of the vast, anti-Christmas conspiracy.
The truth, of course, is that the real dupes are those who get all het up about a “War on Christmas.”
Sorry if that steps on anyone’s toes. But really, we should know better.
In our culture, an enormous amount of pointless controversy is generated by the professional purveyors of fear and victim mentality.
Inevitably, the purveyors are people who want something – our money, our attention, or our votes.
It’s been going on forever. Someone invents a threat. Then they offer a solution – and we feel a sense of gratitude and relief.
Even if the threat is entirely imaginary.
As I’m pretty sure this one is.
Let me offer a parallel case:
Last year, in my one semester as a superannuated grad student, I was surrounded by classmates – mostly female, mostly very recent products of America’s politically-correct colleges and universities.
As such, they were keenly attuned to the machinations of “The Patriarchy,” that vast conspiracy of men – mostly white, older men – to keep women down.
I got into serious trouble once, in class, when I wryly observed that my membership card in the Patriarchy must have gotten lost in the mail. My professor drew himself up and declared – with twirpy pomposity – that the Patriarchy is real, and that we would not be debating its existence in his class.
So much for free speech on campus.
This sort of thing goes on all the time – on the Left and the Right. Someone dreams up a scary, secretive conspiracy – and persuades people to think of themselves as victims.
Then they ask you for something to help with “the good fight.”
And that’s what I hear, every time I hear the phrase “War on Christmas.” Paranoia, deliberately engendered in order to raise money, control votes, and keep folks tuning in.
The fact is, we live in a nation which is far more diverse – culturally, ethnically, and religiously – than the America in which most of us grew up. This diversity has many benefits, but it also requires that we develop a new awareness – a new sensitivity to each other.
It even means that – at times – wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” does the opposite of spreading good cheer.
Though we could probably come up with something more poetic than “Happy Holidays.”