December was so much sweeter before the militants weaponized “merry Christmas.”
There was a time when greeting friends and neighbors was simple. Sharing warm good wishes required no more strategic thought than handing out candy canes or hanging the mistletoe. Whether we chose the long form ― explicitly citing the major holiday and its late December consort, as in “merry Christmas and happy new year” ― or seized the harmless shortcut, “happy holidays,” we could count on pleasant feelings all around. Friendship and good will were gently affirmed, and we could confidently move across the rest of the minefield of seasonal etiquette.
No one was required to invest too much precious political capital in choosing one sentiment or the other … except, of course, for the prim purists fighting an endless rear-guard action against “Xmas.” We could all smile and nod, “Thanks ― same to you,” and exit a few degrees happier.
Somewhere along the line, though, greetings seem to have lost their simple, peaceful purpose. Now, they’re suspect if not exclusively keyed to one of the 26 holidays, religious and otherwise, begun by Thanksgiving and wrapped up after the dropping of the ball in Times Square. Of course, Christmas gets almost all the press in our majority-Christian nation, but it hardly stands alone.
No more can we take for granted that these few heart-warming weeks represent an innocent and hopeful period of “peace on earth, good will to all.”
Instead, however mildly and kindly meant, the ritual of sharing holiday greetings has been locked and loaded with all the skeptical suspicion of ponderous religious rivalries. That pleasant, casual “hello” on a frosty December morn has turned into a minefield of declared loyalties, barely cloaked hostility and political firepower … or at least, that’s we’re told is happening, as we absorb what passes for news about the so-called “war on Christmas.”
Once, we were content to enjoy a social truce throughout the December days surrounding Christmas, Hanukkah, Rohatsu, Mawlid el-Nabi, the Winter Solstice and the rest, not forgetting New Year’s, the national day of football. Outside of the occasional post-Thanksgiving skirmish over cheap-as-dirt big-screen TVs or that dreaded company party, we could almost believe good will would reign across the land.
Then controversy-craving national media uncovered a Big Story few had deduced until then: the cultural Armageddon that Fox News dubbed the War on Christmas.
If you’re a devotee of dispatches from the ultraright, perhaps you’re convinced that Christendom’s most sacred and beloved day is under siege. Pundits are filing hysterical reports from the front lines: Cashiers in big-box discount stores have been sighted substituting an insidious “happy holidays” instead of the mandatory “merry Christmas.” An international coffee shop has even desecrated the season with takeout cups that, while indisputably red and green, carry nary a snowflake or elf.
Lately, I’ve seen endless flurries of Internet memes mourning how the insufficiently religious have ruined the holiday with their callous neglect ― that the phrase “merry Christmas” has had to be warehoused to avoid offending those of other faiths or none at all.
It’s a funny thing, though. The only people likely to observe signs of this warfare against the age-old holiday greeting … seem to be those already firmly implanted on the “merry Christmas” side of the coin. Oddly, I have never personally witnessed nor been a party to an objection raised in person by those who believe otherwise or not at all. It’s a casual social greeting, after all — not the Apostles Creed.
So I wondered: Am I just suspended in a happy little bubble of civility and even temperament, while the battle rages all around?
I decided to turn to that immediate source of ample, albeit questionable, information ― Facebook. I asked my friends to report skirmishes they’ve witnessed firsthand between the supposed hordes of happy-holiday-harpies and Christmas-insisters.
And they came through for me big-time. Almost none, it seems, have encountered anything like the pitched battles Bill O’Reilly reports. My informal field correspondents maintain that all’s quiet on the western front. Several have gone so far as to suggest that the whole mess is mostly an urban myth ― an old-wives’ tale (or whatever you call O’Reilly’s inflammatory fiction) intended to bolster those insidious us-versus-them divisions that boost the TV ratings.
Only four of my informants stepped forward with scant accounts of firefights between not-so-well-wishers ― apparently initiated, by the way, by merry-Christmas partisans, not the vilified happy-holiday guerrillas supposedly waiting in the weeds.
Two cited hostilities amidst the heightened religious apartheid of Chicago’s glitzy North Shore. A third, who lives in a small hyper-Lutheran town in rural Minnesota, reported hearing people worried about the war ― pretty much based on reports from that distant battlefront covered exclusively by Fox News. And the last confided that when she greeted a certain prominent North Dakota political figure with a cheerful “happy holidays,” he disdainfully snapped back “merry Christmas” … a touching way to share the generous and joyful spirit of the holiday he claims so publicly to treasure.
Aggravating, in other words, but hardly World War III in the toy aisle.
So can the lion safely lie down with the lamb? Can we come out of our houses now? Can peace prevail again across the snowy landscape? Perhaps … especially if we bear in mind the parable of yet another of the 12 lost tribes, the folks ― like me ― who celebrate our birthdays in December.
Those of us who debuted on dates this month nurse a few sore spots hidden just beneath the surface. Unlike those born in the other 11 months, we are eclipsed from birth by far more notable nativities. Our big day has always suffered from a degree of benign neglect ― somewhere between an afterthought and being overlooked entirely. Birthday gifts wrapped in red and green paper and tied with jingle bells. “Happy birthday” scrawled across the bottom of Christmas cards.
In extreme cases, some of us have even been the object of the ultimate last-minute fix … getting the toy for Christmas and batteries for your birthday, perhaps, or unwrapping a single roller skate on your own special day, only to find its mate beneath the Christmas tree.
And do we long-suffering Christmas babies complain? I’d like to report we endure the situation with a lifetime of angelic silence. Who am I kidding? Every one of us would have loved pastel candles on a pink or blue birthday cake (back when we still ate carbohydrates), not to mention piles of presents wrapped in paper with posies or puppies.
But the tribe of the December-born has learned, early on, to be grateful for what we get. We understand the gentle spirit in which these loving, if slightly misguided, gestures are intended … just as I hope the “merry Christmas” militia will graciously concede in this desperately needed season of peace and good will.
Lay down your private aggravations, my friends. Let’s declare a “merry Christmas” truce and be thankful for all the spiritual generosity that comes our way.
Take it from this Christmas baby — these weeks so rich in holidays could be a far, far sadder season. All those kind-hearted well-wishers, once slapped into silence, might just quietly elect to ignore you altogether.