To start, here’s a nice strawman argument for you all:
Anyhow, first real snowfall here in Oxford, OH. That puts me in a good mood – sugarplums and holiday cheer and all that. I sound cynical, don’t I? Really, though, it’s not because I don’t buy into the whole Christmas spirit thing – I do, I’m a sap – but because I’m reminded of the looming annual debate over one of the words I just used: holiday. Is it “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas”? The legions of Christmas-defenders are amassing as I speak, ready to raise holy hell and loudly boycott Target or J.C. Penny or any other enterprise employing a religiously ambiguous expression of seasonal cheer.
To me, nothing sucks the happy out of the holidays like a nasty ideological debate about the place of religion in public commerce.
Here’s a brief exchange from the Yuletide-spreading Facebook group “It’s Merry christmas [sic] not happy holidays” (real names have been omitted):
Imposing-looking bald man: Yep, CoCa Cola can stick their Political Correctness up their ASS !!!
Person who has The Great Gazoo for a profile picture: For the record, Coca Cola does print Merry Christmas on cans packaged in 12 packs, but on the 2 liter bottles it says Happy Holidays.
Imposing-looking bald man: well, they had a 20m x 15m digital sign on the London M25 motorway, that lasted about 1 week in November , before it was replaced – perhaps 2 million commuters / day seeing “happy holidays” was an own goal !!!!
Cleary, these people (who, as Facebook shows, exist overseas as well as in the USA) feel alienated by the “political correctness” of “Happy Holidays.” What seems ironic to me, though, is that companies like Coca-Cola who print “Happy Holidays!” on their products and ads are making a clear stab at Burkean identification with the public at large (communal sense of holiday spirit = $$$); they are systematically trying to avoid alienation, but in doing so, un-identifying themselves with those who are ideologically predisposed to the idea that Christianity should own the holiday season. I don’t usually sit around feeling sorry for multi-million dollar corporations, but this is a tough spot to be in. Do we use the inclusive expression of seasonal cheer and cheese off the Bible-wielding right-wing, or do we say “Merry Christmas” and maybe alienate someone else?
So. I’m not Christian, but I don’t find “Merry Christmas” offensive. That would be sort of hypocritical, since I, like many Americans secularists, still celebrate this holiday. What I do find offensive, though, is the arrogance stemming from the assumption that any one religion should own any chunk of the American (or British, for that matter) calendar year. That logic, followed to its furthest extent, would point to the belief that America is an inherently Christian nation – which, as a non-Christian American, makes me uneasy. The Christmas/Holidays debate seems to have this polarizing effect – the “It’s Christmas!!!@#!$” people get their feathers ruffled, and in doing so, reveal the colors of their monocultural ideology, thus ruffling the feathers of cultural pluralists like me. Deck the halls with ruffled feathers, I guess.
Also, though, I’m just annoyed that this argument has to come up year after year. Funny how the sourpusses (yeah, I just said “sourpusses”) who do the most to ruin the spirit of Christmas are those who cling hardest to that very word.