Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas.  Or is it the Holiday Season?  Time for the annual debate on whether you can or should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.  Honestly, I find it tiresome.  I think some people just want to find a way to complain and cram their beliefs down other people’s throats.

The figure of Santa Claus has some Christian basis, but has come to represent the secular practice of holiday gift giving.

Lest you think I’m a Bah Humbug Scrooge type person, you should know that, while I came from a “broken home” where the holidays were a time of anxiousness for me as a child, I generally love them.

But, I do not love the debate about the holidays.

Technically, for Christians, the Christmas season does not even start until Christmas Day, and it doesn’t end until the Sunday after the Epiphany (the Baptism of Jesus which will be on Sunday, January 15, 2012, this season).

Christmas trees have been around since the 15th century.  Those wishing to avoid the religious connection refer to them as Yule trees.

The First Sunday of Advent which was on Sunday, November 27 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day) is the start of the Church year for Catholics.  The homily we heard that day was from a young man who will become an official priest next May.  He is a very devout and religious man, and I’m sure he will make a good priest someday.

His homily that day, however, was out of touch with reality.  He admonished us to keep the Advent season separate from the Christmas season.  We are to ignore all of the materialism of the secular celebrations of the holiday season.  No cookies.  No parties.  No gifts.  No decorations.  No lights.  No trees.

We are not supposed to partake in any of these things until the actual start of the Christmas season.  Which, again, does not start until after December 18.

Now there is a man who is out of touch with reality.  Was he really asking all of the mothers, all of the fathers, all of the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to wait until Christmas Day to get ready for Christmas?

Yes, he was.

Most Christians are not really familiar with the Biblical stories of Jesus’ birth.  Only two gospels even include an infancy narrative – Matthew and Luke.  Mark’s gospel starts with the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and John’s gospel starts with those beautiful words “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . .”  Many of our favorite hymns include images that are not even mentioned in the Bible including angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest.”, the ox and the ass, the “three kings”, the manger, or the wise men’s camels.

Which brings me to my point.  It doesn’t take a significant amount of research to learn that the celebration of Jesus’ birth on December 25 is a contrived holiday.  The Bible does not state the actual date of Jesus’ birth.  There is no historical evidence to support when he was actually born.  We don’t even know the actual year he was born for sure.  What we do know is that around 330 AD (or CE depending on which term you use), early Church leaders moved the date of Christ’s birth to December 25.  That was about 300 years (yes, three centuries) after Christ’s death.  Even Church scholars acknowledge that the date was chosen to counteract pagan feasts which were celebrated at that time.  Yes, before Christmas was actually the day we celebrated the birth of the Baby Jesus, it was a pagan holiday.

Which leads me to my next point.

I believe that there is room for a celebration of the Holiday Season and Christmas for everyone – believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians.  In fact, most of the world, including many countries with very small numbers of Christians celebrate Christmas albeit as a secular (or non-religious) holiday that includes gifts, decorations, celebrations, and time off from work.  The notable countries who do not include any kind of celebration of Christmas, secular or otherwise, are China (except Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey, and North Korea.

But what do you want to bet that will change someday soon?  Our global world almost guarantees it.  Why?  Because it’s human nature to want to celebrate.  Celebrations of life and death and seasons and gods and God have been going on since the dawn of humankind.

So, this is my position.  There is room for the holidays, and there is room for Christmas, too.  As Christians, we will celebrate the four weeks of Advent in preparation for Christmas.  But we will also decorate our home, buy gifts, turn on special lights, bake cookies, go to parties, and share in all of the wonderful fun and joys of the season.

One of our favorite family traditions is to make homemade Christmas cookies.

I will continue to wish my non-Christian and non-religious friends Happy Holidays.  Because I want them to be happy and to share in the joy of the season.

And we will continue to celebrate the joy of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day because that is what we do as Catholic Christians.

I think there is room enough for both the secular celebration and the religious celebration of Christmas and the Holiday Season.

What is most important, to me, is that we don’t create an environment of expectations that makes this wonderful period of time one of stress and unhappiness.  That the gifts and the lights and decorations and trees and food become the obsession rather than the pieces that add to the time we spend with family and friends celebrating the joys of the season in the middle of Winter.

Our 2011 Christmas card which says, “Merry Christmas” but the pictures represent a celebration of our lives as a family over the past year.

So, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to one and all.  I hope that everyone has a safe and happy Holiday Season, a blessed Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

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