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In Theory: Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays?

December 22, 2010

Q. According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, Americans are split almost 50-50 what to say this holiday season — "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." Some Christian leaders and conservative commentators have declared "Happy Holidays" as a secular war on Christmas and say the greeting secularizes what should be a religious celebration. Others say it's a non-exclusive phrase that is better suited to a multicultural and multi-religious society. Do you think this is true, or do you think either phrase is applicable in this day and age?

I can understand retailers desiring to be inclusive in their season's greetings so as not to alienate any customers, but with 90% of Americans celebrating Christmas, it would seem silly to ignore the source of the lion's share of profit, acting as if the number-one reason for Black Friday and the countdown of shopping days doesn't all have to do with the vast-majority observance.

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It does seem that this year has shown a bit more Yule awareness though, as checkers have wished me "Merry Christmas" frequently when I finished my purchases. Maybe it's just obvious what to say to someone leaving with rolls of nativity wrapping paper. I'm guessing if buying frozen latkes, the Jewish-specific well-wish would then be forthcoming.

Hanukkah is actually mentioned in the New Testament with an adult Jesus apparently in attendance at its celebration (John 10:22), but a military victory with a miraculous legend attached doesn't compare with God actually showing up personally in the manger that first Christmas, splitting time between BC and AD.

And no black Christian I know celebrates Kwanzaa, which was invented in the 1960's by educator and black activist Dr. Maulana Karenga as a specifically African American holiday. Nonetheless, time has a way of blurring questionable beginnings of such things as Kwanzaa and making a mountain out of the previously subdued molehill of menorah lighting and dreidel spinning. But isn't that all so American.

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