Sarah Garrecht Gassen
Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

I have a few questions about this imaginary “War on Christmas” we hear so much about from such paragons of virtue as President Trump.

So, in the immortal words of Sophia Petrillo on the “Golden Girls,” picture it:

It’s a chilly December evening, and Person #1 has been a busy beaver at the mall, buying lots of presents for his family, friends, dog and even his cat.

Person #1 cracks open his wallet, hands over the credit card, remembers to ask for gift receipts so the presents he carefully selected can be easily returned for store credit, and turns to leave. “Merry Christmas!” he says to the lady next in line, Person #2.

It seems like a friendly thing to do. Spirit of the season and all that.

But, you see, Person #2 is Jewish. Or Muslim. Or Jehovah’s Witness. Or atheist. Or agnostic. Or Buddhist. Or Hindu. Or humanist. Or a person who doesn’t subscribe to any official label.

What’s she supposed to say in response?

Merry Christmas?

But if she’s not a Christian, isn’t that a lie?

Fibbing about Christmas doesn’t sound like the kind of thing Jesus would approve of.

So do you say “Merry Christmas” in the spirit of go-along, get-along? Like how you might say “Good morning” to someone who says it to you, even if your morning isn’t all that good?

Do you say “Merry Christmas” in the spirit of not hurting another person’s feelings, by choosing to receive the sentiment in the spirit it was intended — even if that spirit is more ho-ho-ho than holy?

And what’s wrong with Happy Holidays? As the fine calendar- makers of the world make sure we know, December includes Christmas, but also Hanukkah (which, not to put too fine a point on it, got there first), Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.

And Beethoven’s birthday. But that’s another kind of celebration.

So, if you don’t think it’s right to reply with a “Merry Christmas” because you don’t want to be a Christmas poseur, what’s the right thing to do?

Person #1: “Merry Christmas!”

Person #2: “Jesus is not my Lord or my Savior, so I don’t celebrate his birthday. I already have a religion, thank you. Or, I don’t, and I’m fine with that.

“I do hope you enjoy your religious holiday, which you may have noticed has been co-opted by the ubiquitous American consumer culture on overdrive.

“And, seeing as I don’t celebrate your Christmas, could I please have some Earplugs For Non-Christians so I don’t have to hear ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ every time I go to the grocery store?

“And do you think Baby Jesus would prefer a Cadillac in the driveway this December 25, or would he be more of a Jeep guy? Maybe a Ford Fiesta, keeping with the party theme?”

Is it OK for a non-Christian to say “Merry Christmas” if we’re wishing a friend or stranger glad tidings for a celebration that clearly has meaning for them — even if we don’t observe the same (or any) religion?

Is it better to do a quick religious litmus test to determine if the “Merry Christmas” being issued is adequately sincere? And if it’s not, do we call the Christmas Police?

Or is it better, as we’ve seen with many stores and public places, to go with “Happy Holidays” in recognition that not everyone is a Christian — and that non-Christians matter, too.

Because saying “Merry Christmas,” uttered in its strictest form, is quite an assumption that everyone believes as you do, and celebrates as you do.

But not everyone does. And that’s OK.

I think Merry Christmas is much more commonly offered as a greetings of the season, not an order or a religious purity challenge.

If you think that Christmas has been shoved aside for generic “Happy Holidays,” please go into any store the day after Thanksgiving. Or turn on the radio.

Or notice that our shared national holiday of Thanksgiving has been cut shorter and shorter by retailers opening their doors on what is supposed to be a day of gratitude and family, so they can cash in on the mad rush of turkey-stuffed shoppers fighting over screamin’ deals on presents. Christmas hasn’t gone anywhere.

But, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that if people want to feel put upon or aggrieved, no amount of reality is going to talk them out of it.

So let’s wish each other something we should all be able to embrace:

I wish you peace, and a full and happy heart.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is Editorial Page Editor. Email her at sgassen@tucson.com

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