“Happy Holidays” declared a poster in a shop off of Dublin’s Grafton Street last December. The poster was an advertisement for an American clothing brand, the country from which the greeting comes. “Happy holidays” was not devised as a form of political correctness, it was devised as a way of being inclusive of other religious traditions who have festivals around the time that Christmas occurs, in particular the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. In the United States the word “Chrismukkah”, a combination of “Christmas” and “Hanukkah”, is now used by some to describe the festival time. “Happy Holidays” is also a recognition that the United States is officially a secular country in which no religious group is favoured; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” says the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Coca-Cola have used the term for some years with their advertisement showing trucks speeding through snowy landscapes accompanied by the jingle, “Holidays are coming.”
But should we say “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Christmas”? When we look at the advertising on the television, and we look at the vast stocks in the shops, and we look at the massive amounts of food and alcohol, and we look at the huge debts people will incur in the coming weeks, we have to ask ourselves what any of it has to do with a child being born in Bethlehem.
Taking Christmas seriously may mean that Christians have to say that what many people now celebrate is not Christmas. Telling people that their Christmas celebrations are not really Christmas at all is hardly an approach that will in many friends, but what do we say about God and about the story of his Son coming into our world if we allow that story to be trivialized? What do we say about the tale of the Nativity if it is regarded as no more than a children’s play?
If we value Saint John’s words that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, if we value Saint Luke’s description of the angels and the shepherds coming to worship the child in Bethlehem, if we value Saint Matthew’s account of wise men coming from the East, shouldn’t we be careful in the way that we use the word “Christmas”?
We may know people where “Happy Holidays” is a more appropriate greeting for their time of celebration. If we are going to say, “Happy Christmas”, let’s be sure of what we are saying.