By: Susan Knowles
Two of the most familiar and most sacred of Christian holidays are the celebrations of Christmas and Easter. Christmas is celebrated on December 25 each year by billions around the world to commemorate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Easter is celebrated in the spring and denotes the death and resurrection of Christ. If Christmas is such a holy celebration, then why has Christmas become a time in which many Christians are uncomfortable with the custom of saying Merry Christmas?
Years ago, the introduction of political correctness, which involves using language that is less offensive, became part of the American culture. Since its introduction, some believe that it has been used to curtail free speech protected under the First Amendment which grants individuals the right to speak freely without interference from the government and also prohibits the government (not private citizens) from establishing a religion. Thus, each person has a right to practice (or not to practice) any faith without government interference.
Unfortunately, it’s the Religion Clause of the First Amendment coupled with political correctness that seems to have caused many Christians to take pause in freely celebrating their own beliefs. Christians have become so concerned about not offending others that their own religious freedoms have been eroded. The mere mention of the words Merry Christmas have some Christians convinced that they may be prohibiting others’ religious freedoms.
Some Christians are too willing to accept the notion that saying Merry Christmas is no longer an acceptable salutation because it may be offensive to non-Christians. They have become so concerned with offending others that they have unwittingly inhibited themselves from freely practicing their own faith and Christian customs. However, most non-Christians and Christians alike that I know wouldn’t take offense if someone greeted them with a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanza” if they were not a participant in those particular faiths. They wouldn’t feel that their own religion was being negativity impacted.
Quite the contrary, many would just nod their heads in an approving thank you and take no offense at all. Even if someone is offended because they happen not to agree with the tenets of your religion, is it a good reason to stop practicing your own faith? Being forced to choose which traditions to follow or not follow for the sake of appeasing others can eventually lead to a tacit surrendering of all Christian principles and should be avoided, according to many.
Additionally, others would argue that many aspects celebrated at Christmas contain both secular and Christian themes and that it shouldn’t matter to Christians whether they say Merry Christmas or refrain from saying it. They site Santa Claus, Christmas trees, saying Merry Christmas, and exchanging Christmas gifts as examples of traditions acknowledged by Christians but which do not necessarily pertain to their faith.
However, many Christians would argue that these are a part of the culture of Christianity and that the gesture of saying Merry Christmas is a part of their traditional Christian faith. Saying Merry Christmas is an integral part of Christianity that many feel should be passed along from one generation to the next because not to teach this part of the culture to children would be eliminating a long-standing Christian practice.
As Christians, our faith and what practices (secular and/or Christian) we choose to follow are all part of the Christian culture and tradition. Some may argue that the definition of culture does not include religious aspects but relates only to social, ethnic, or age groups (Dictionary.com). Therefore, culture is not a part of Christianity. I would disagree. Culture by definition includes the social aspects of any group whether religious or otherwise. Christianity is a faith shared by many ethnicities as well. Therefore, any and all aspects taught within the faith itself would be considered a part of the culture. A large number of Christians as a whole have always celebrated the Christmas season by exclaiming Merry Christmas.
Reciting Merry Christmas has significance far beyond the cultural aspects of Christianity that must be preserved. When Christians greet others with these words they are not merely using it in the same way they would use the word “hello.” Christians are openly expressing to the world that they believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. This does not mean that they are requiring others to believe the same by forcing them to hear the words “Merry Christmas.” Just as someone in the Jewish faith who says Happy Hanukkah isn’t demanding that Christians or non-Christians convert to Judaism. Some would argue, however, that this is exactly what is being attempted by a particular religious or cultural greeting. Even if that were true, it has no bearing on what the person hearing the greeting does or doesn’t do. The choice is up to the individual.
The significance of teaching Christians to say Merry Christmas as part of their faith stems from Jesus’ words to his people that “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). We as Christians are not to be ashamed to proclaim our faith in Jesus. We are not required to say Merry Christmas but we should feel comfortable in saying it if we so choose because we are affirming our faith in our God.
So, the next time, you as a non-Christian hear a Christian saying Merry Christmas remember that it is that person’s way of expressing his/her faith. It is their way of proclaiming to the world that they are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. There is no offense intended. You may ignore them, respond with a Merry Christmas of your own, or respond with a part of your culture that you would like to share.
Susan Knowles is an author, psychotherapist and former practicing attorney. Her latest book, a political fiction, is entitled, “Freedom’s Fight: A Call to Remember” available on Amazon.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com, where this article may also be found.