I was on a flight arriving… somewhere… the other day, and the flight attendant wished everyone Happy Holidays during her arrival announcement. And some twangy voice from behind me shouted out, “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS!”. Awwwwkward turtle.
The other passengers on the plane (although most of them probably agreed) seemed uncomfortable. True, I prefer “Merry Christmas” myself, but what about the holiday that is supposed to be about forgiveness, atonement, and cheer lends itself to this kind of rude outburst? Why is it that every December there is inevitably a month long culture war between secularists and religionists on how to best celebrate the damn holiday?
Let’s go back to 1620 and blame the Pilgrims (as I usually do). You see, contrary to what is taught in our schools about the Pilgrims coming to the New World seeking religious freedom, they actually came to the New World seeking the freedom to persecute non-believers. You see, what was then England (there was no “Great Britain” until 1701) was one of the more religiously liberal countries in Europe at the time. Sure, there was a state established religion, and you were technically required to go to church (or you could demur and pay a pittance of a fine) but the private or even public practice of other religions wasn’t exactly frowned upon.
But the Puritans wouldn’t shut the hell up about it – and it basically amounted to the minority persecuting the majority for their beliefs, and after enough flicks to the forehead the powers that be (in 1620 it was Gay King James I) said “Put up or shut up.” and the Puritans responded “We Outtie.”
Enter the United States. There is no “Put up or shut up” here. Ironically, there isn’t in Britain anymore either, which has long favored “Happy Christmas” over “Merry Christmas” anyway because of the connotation in English parlance between “Merry” and “Drunken Debauchery”. If the Brits do one thing particularly well, it’s Christmas. But I digress. So, here in these United States, we’re perfectly free to proselytize (Oh, Christianity? Never heard of it. Tell me more.) out loud to total strangers on airplanes. I wonder how many people overheard the twangy “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS!” and were promptly reborn. Good work there, buddy. More presents for you. I suppose with religion (as with many other things here) there’s certainly no accounting for taste.
So, nearly 400 years later, we haven’t made any progress. We say “Happy Holidays” to somebody on the airplane, because, let’s face it, we live in a multicultural society where the freedom to practice one’s religion (and there’s a frightening number of religious celebrations that fall in the last two months of the year) is considered a basic human right, but instead of channeling that energy into actually making sure we maximize our personal appreciation of the holiday, we have go to around chastising everyone else for not being “Christian enough”.
Like these idiots who feel so strongly about “correctly” addressing Christmas, that they publish a list of retailers who are “Naughty” or “Nice” for “correctly” referring to Christmas. God forbid (heh, God) a retailer should express any interest in staying neutral on the subject, but still wishing its patrons joy. Just imagine if they were to be wished Happy Eid. “No, no, I don’t care if you’re Christian, this is a Muslim holiday – you need to respect the message and keep this religious holiday religious so only the penitent can enjoy it. Your holiday isn’t until next month.”
Frankly, it’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. Say “Merry Christmas” and you piss off everyone who isn’t Christian (and teetotaling Britons). Say “Happy Holidays” and get your ass handed to you for leading the charge in the “War On Christianity”. So you stop assuming I’m Christian, because it offends me (even though I am Christian, but that’s beside the point), and you stop complaining I didn’t somehow telepathically determine whatever religion you subscribe to and proffer the appropriate religion-specific greeting.
So I’m just going to go around saying “Happy.” ‘Cause whatever you think should come after it, the real emotion behind the saying is the first word, isn’t it?