Have you ever started to say “Merry Christmas,” then checked yourself? Have you decided to abandoned the practice altogether? Well, to quote an angel, “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy.” Go ahead and say it, even to those whom you do not know. Here are some reasons why it’s a good idea:
Virtually everyone knows that Christmas is a holiday during which Christians celebrate the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ. What many people do not know is that Christmas is also a national holiday. It was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Grant on June 6, 1870.
Many may ask, “Why 1870, why not sooner?” Actually, Christmas was frowned upon for a long time by many of the early British colonists. They were bigger killjoys than Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans back in England. In fact, Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The penalty for partying was a five-shilling fine.
If we go back to the beginnings of Christmas, we will find the Christians of that period scheduled the holiday to coincide with the existing Roman holidays of Saturnalia and Juvenalia, both of which occurred around the winter solstice. They figured, correctly, that it would be easier to convert existing holidays to the new one instead of ditching the old ones and selling the new one.
For better or worse, Christmas commandeered not only the dates, but also the nature of the pagan celebrations.
According to History.com, “On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras.” Hence the rather negative attitude of the Puritan party-poopers toward the holiday.
In the end, we Americans developed our own way of doing Christmas. We center our celebration around our families coming together, sharing meals, giving gifts to family and friends, and engaging in charity. Much of the bedrock of American culture consists of these things.
You might say that Christmas is a religious holiday for most Americans, and a cultural holiday for all Americans.
So, maybe you buy the Christmas-for-all line, but you still are afraid to speak the controversial phrase aloud. Well, according to a 2015 Gallup survey, 75 percent of Americans identify as Christians, so you have a 75 percent chance of hitting a home run when you wish a stranger “Merry Christmas.”
As for the remaining 25 percent, I thought it best to ask a few non-Christian Tucsonans about their thoughts on the subject. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschiled (Judaism) said, “If I know someone celebrates Christmas, I wish them a Merry Christmas, just like if I know someone celebrates Hanukkah, I wish them a Happy Hanukkah. I don’t assume people follow a particular religion without knowing them.”
Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash (Judaism) said, “I am always happy to be greeted with ‘Merry Christmas’ and I go out of my way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to those with whom I come in contact.” My friend Anonymous (Kashmir Shaivism) said, “If they convince me they’re saying it from their heart, I love it,” and, “I think it’s a bit insensitive to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to strangers.”
Editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons (nonbeliever) said, “‘Merry Christmas’ is as acceptable to me as any religious person’s friendly greeting. I am no more offended than when a Muslim friend heaps Allah’s blessings upon me or I’m wished a happy Saint Patrick’s Day. Diversity is beautiful.”
Well, there you have it. For the most part, even those who are not of the Christian faith are “down” with the blessing.
Whether of religious or cultural significance, the Christmas spirit of family, giving and charity is something we all share. Share the blessing.