Happy *ring* holidays?

Like loads of Christians, I don’t much care for the phrase “Happy holidays!” I’d rather that folks would offer good wishes according to their beliefs, or lack thereof. Lowest-common-denominator pluralism is boring. This pablum-speak does not allow anyone to be who they are. As an aside, it especially annoys me when people come out of a 90 minute incense- and chant-filled Christmas Eve Mass and wish their priests, “Happy holidays!” Can’t we at least say “Happy Christmas” at church?

A couple of days ago, I was out in consumerland. Outside one of the stores, there were Salvation Army ringers collecting money, cheerfully saying, “Happy holidays!” to every passer-by. Salvation Army. Let me repeat that. Salvation. Army. These people are in the Lord’s army, out to save the world. That’s their lingo. So maybe they would consider acknowledging, um, Jesus?

This is the closest thing I could find to solid theology on their clean-scrubbed try-hard-not-to-offend website: “We believe that repentance toward God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and regeneration by the Holy Spirit are necessary to salvation.” Then there’s this: “We believe in the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, in the general judgment at the end of the world, in the eternal happiness of the righteous, and in the endless punishment of the wicked.” Got that? You have to obey Christ or burn in hell.

Now, I’m not going to quibble too much with that particular bit of Salvationist theology. It’s pretty orthodox (for most of 2,000 years of Christianity) stuff, though Anglicans see the details differently. But for Salvationists wouldn’t obedience to Christ include acknowledging your own faith in that same Christ? If you don’t want to share your Christian faith widely with others in order to save them, then perhaps the Salvation Army isn’t a good gig?

Now, at this point, you might like to tell me that they’re giving innocuous greetings trying not to offend anyone. Everyone uses this argument to defend against “Merry Christmas.” Do you know anyone who has been offended by a religious holiday greeting? More to the point, if you don’t want to be overtly partaking in Christmas festivity, why stand outside with a bright red cap (which is a Christian vestment — check “camauro“) and a loud bell? At that point, “Merry Christmas” seems like icing on the Bûche de Noël.

When I was in India a few years ago around the celebration of Ganesha, I did not mind when people wished me a good celebration. In Zanzibar this past summer during Ramadan, I even learned to give a passable greeting in Arabic, “Peace be with you.” Perhaps watered down pluralism is exactly the wrong impulse in our increasingly small world. I think we’d be better off to learn to value our own particularity and the uniqueness of others. If a shopkeeper wishes me a Happy Kwanzaa, that’s an opportunity for me to learn something about another tradition.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with my rant. I’m hoping not to be one of those “war on Christmas” complainers, but I have little patience for Christians who willingly surrender their own practices and faith for fear of an imagined foe.

When the guy at the gas station says, “Happy holidays,” I usually answer “You too!” But next time I see a Salvation Army ringer, I’ll respond, “Really? Happy Christmas!”

In closing, let me wish many of my friends a Happy Festivus!

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3 Responses

  1. Rich Bardusch says:

    “but I have little patience for Christians who willingly surrender their own practices and faith for fear of an imagined foe.” I have decided that among our many problems as Christians is that we live our lives too much according to unspoken fears. Being a Christians means we don’t have to fear anything, even death. Maybe the Salvation Army is fearing a decrease in collections, which makes their surrender to an imagined foe all the more scandalous. Thanks for the rant. I am right there with you, but you probably knew that.

  2. Madge says:

    Hey, merry Christmas 😉

    I sort of agree with you, but I’ve been taken aback by Christians who have basically been bullies in their insistence on everyone celebrating their way. (like, a couple of parents were offended because we changed the holiday party in my sons public school so a non-Christian kid wouldn’t have to sit in the office for the party.)

    I’m in love with the feast of the incarnation, but there’s no call to be uncharitable about it. For this week we are so the dominant religion in our country, we can stand to be a but more gracious toward those who struggle or believe differently. I can tell you that the behavior of those staunchly Christian parents at school didn’t bring anyone closer to the Baby Jesus.

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Madge, I agree with you. There’s a difference between one’s self and insisting that others adopt one’s views. And of course the context is different in a public school (where children are required to be, and where the state is footing the bill) than it is on a public street (where one has a choice, and where the interactions are not state funded).

    But after Mass at church tomorrow, I’ll be telling everyone “Happy Christmas!”