Should We Really Care About “Merry Christmas”?

“Keep Christ in Christmas.”

“Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”

“You Can’t Spell Christmas Without Christ.”

“Happy Birthday, Jesus!”

While somewhat corny and cliché, I agree with these statements. To me, Christmas is primarily a religious observance. Being a Christian, Christmas is first and foremost a celebration of the coming of Immanuel – God with us. That God would become human for the salvation of the world brings a sense of hope that is often absent from the rest of the year. Christ is inseparable from Christmas.

These seasonal holiday phrases reflect a larger discussion on the role of culture and religion often called “The War on Christmas.” Talking heads on cable debate whether nativity scenes should be displayed on government property (Bill O’Reilly is a common foot soldier in this war). Those entities in both government and the private sector that attempt to maintain inclusive or non-specific religious observances are sometimes labeled as the aggressors in this supposed war. Alleged offenses may include (but are not limited to): Happy Holidays replacing Merry Christmas, emphasizing America’s religious diversity during the holiday season, singing only secular holiday songs, or perhaps leaving out a nativity scene in favor of a menorah.

But do any of these supposed offenses have any real impact on my faith or religious observance during Christmas?

My answer is a simple “no.” The perennial “War on Christmas” debate is a larger cultural discussion about the relevance and role of religious recognition in American culture – a culture that is perhaps more religiously diverse and secular than in past years. Soldiers in this war would have you believe that our religious faith is critically at risk – as if the non existence of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus at city hall has the potential to bring one’s faith crashing down. But until folks come into my parish and tell me I cannot freely worship the coming of Immanuel at Christmas time, then there is no “war.” No baby Jesus at city hall? No problem! You’ll find him in the church and that’s where he rightly belongs. The dominant culture is not obligated to celebrate the coming of our Lord, but we are.

And what about the commercial and economic issues relevant to Christian life and the celebration of Christmas? It seems some Christians would rather complain about the cashier at Target that failed to say “Merry Christmas” than think about how many gifts they just charged to their Target account. Commodity often replaces Christ.  That should be the larger offense. (See the Advent Conspiracy).

Do you think that the failure of the broader culture to greet you with “Merry Christmas” is a blasphemous offense? If so, next time compare your credit card statement with your charitable donations during the Christmas season. Notice a difference? I do – and that’s the real blasphemy – or dare I say, war?


~ by Richard McNeal on December 22, 2009.

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