Merry Xmas

You have perhaps heard that, in some quarters, there is controversy over whether we should all be wishing each other “Merry Christmas” at this time of year, or opting for the more culturally-neutral “Happy Holidays.”

Businesses have faced this dilemma, too. Here’s a story from The Daily Camera that sketches the issue: “Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas? Area businesses defend their seasonal greetings”

Tinsel-covered signs wishing passersby a “Merry Christmas” once were common storefront decorations in December. Now — in many communities, including Boulder — shoppers are hard-pressed to find those words near any shop’s front door.
Controversy in recent years around the issue of politically correct greetings prompted some business owners to shy away from the word “Christmas” so not to offend people who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or nothing at all.

It’s an understandable dilemma. It’s easy to see why businesses want, on one hand, to honour tradition, but also want, on the other hand, not to offend those who for whom Christmas might be a somewhat foreign Christian tradition.

My colleague and friend, Mark Mercer, has got it right. Here’s a nice piece he wrote last year, reprinted recently in The Ottawa Citizen: “Christmas is a secular holiday”

People who would ban Christmas decorations and celebrations from public places are moved by the thought that to celebrate Christmas publicly is to privilege one tradition, and the constellation of values around it, over all the other traditions and constellations of values current in Canadian society. Celebrating Christmas, they think, disparages other holidays or traditions of celebration, and that, in turn, marginalizes or excludes everyone outside the Christian tradition.
One point we must keep in mind here, though, is that Christmas is not an exclusively Christian holiday. For at least a couple of generations, Christmas has been evolving into a secular holiday, a holiday that for many of us has no religious significance at all. Christmas is a celebration of good will, generosity, and peace among nations.

I personally like Mark’s advice. Let’s think of Xmas as a secular holiday, one we can all celebrate, regardless of religion (or lack thereof). And I think it would be a good thing if we each simply were to choose a favourite holiday greeting — mine might be “Merry Xmas,” and yours might be “Happy Hanukkah”, etc. — and accept other people’s favourite greetings for the well-intentioned expressions of goodwill that they generally are.

On the other hand, I’d find it hard to blame businesses that don’t want to be on the cutting edge in this particular way. Oh well. Merry Xmas, everyone!

2 comments so far

  1. Stu on

    I think you may have mixed a couple of debates in this post. In my mind, there are two points you’re bringing up:1) Whether businesses should say “Merry Christmas” 2) Whether society should decorate public spaces with Christmas decorations and accept Christmas as its secular holidayI think the two have different answers. The first question in my mind isn’t necessarily a business ethics question as it is just a business question. If I am a store owner (Christian or not), I am most interested in making the most money. In an all-Christian town, that might lead me to writing “Merry Christmas” and going all out with the baby Jesus – even if I’m not Christian. If I am a national chain who has to appeal to a more diverse group, then my strategy will be to celebrate “holidays” if I think it’ll bring in more money. I may use Christmas cheer in my stores but I won’t necessarily single out “Christmas” as my only holiday. I think in the long-run it’s a bottom line question, which is why you see businesses opting for “holidays” instead of “Christmas.”Now should society as a whole decorate public spaces with Christmas? In part this is linked to the first question because public spaces are decorated by two groups: private sector and public sector. We already discussed the private sector decision rules, but what about government? I personally believe in a strict separation of church and state, and so any singling out of a religion automatically makes me wary. In reality, historic case law doesn’t allow it in the US anyway, so it’s more of a hypothetical question. In a utopia perhaps we could all go around using Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah interchangeably as though they mean the same thing, but we’re dealing with human beings who enjoy their differences and don’t want to be discriminated for it. I am pretty happy with the status quo personally, so I can’t say I’m a big proponent of making Christmas the secular holiday.

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Stu:Thanks for your comment.Two points in reply:1) It’s probably a mistake to think that an issue can be EITHER a bottom-line issue OR an ethics issue. When a company’s method of making money has the potential to hurt and/or offend, that’s an ethical issue. Compare: there might be racist places where posting racist signs would improve the bottom line. A store might do so “just for bottom line reasons,” but that would be morally unacceptable.2) I’m pretty sure I’m not confusing public & private spaces, at least not in the sense you’re talking about. None of my original posting was about “public” spaces of the kind where the separation of church & state (which I endorse) is relevant. I didn’t make any arguments about publicly-funded spaces like City Hall or the Courthouse — just a point about greetings exchanged, in public, between individuals.Chris.

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