By: Nick Bergeman ~Staff Columnist~
Despite the U.S. being founded on the idea of separation between church and state, a significant chunk of Americans believe that the United States is a Christian nation, even if only culturally. Christmas may demonstrate that America is a Christian nation, but not in the way you think.
America’s First Amendment guarantees equal and free protection of religious beliefs and practices, but some Christians choose to use the holiday season as a tool of social imperialism over other cultures and practices that do not align with their beliefs. This manifests prominently in the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” conversation that reappears every year.
The issue begins at the point that prevalence becomes dominance. Most Americans may celebrate Christmas, but the greeting is intended to include the millions who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or any other holiday. “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” are not enemies.
In recent years, a large number of businesses began using the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in prominent advertising campaigns, which many say is an attempt to appeal to an increasingly diverse population. While some responded positively to this change, each year brings push-back from Christian groups that believe the shift represents an attack on Christianity.
The Christian demographics that see an attack in this inclusive language would assert that “Happy Holidays” excludes them or attacks Christ. However, this hubristic claim demonstrates cultural imperialism more than a cry for equity. These groups are looking at an expression of inclusion which removes their exclusivity.
Christmas is included in the new greeting, whereas “Merry Christmas” says nothing for the Orthodox Jew who does not celebrate that holiday. It would be nice to share a heartened greeting of something that you believe, but inclusion of an unknown or wide audience does not represent an attack on religion.
The irony of calling “Happy Holidays” an attack showcases how some Christians need to reflect on the message that is central to Christmas.
The American melting pot represents countless countries and ethnicities, but many of these backgrounds are interwoven with a Christian tradition. No Christian practice has become such a part of the fabric of the American experience as Christmas, but that is not because America loves Jesus Christ so much.
It’s probably because America has transformed Christmas into a meeting point of Christian religion and capitalism. American Christmas pretends to be a Christian holiday so people can enjoy the protection that comes with being attached to religion. Americans celebrate the birth of Christ, but taking a glance at the amount of retail merchandise sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas paints a different picture than the love of a man who lived simply and preached love for the poor. It may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, but we still want more presents under the tree.
One of my favorite things to hear around Christmas is, “Put the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas.’” Truthfully, I love the idea of it because I happen to love Christ as a religious Catholic, and I would love for Christians to appreciate the gift of Christ in their lives as much as ones under the tree.
However, that is not why it is one of my favorite things to hear around Christmas, rather, I appreciate the irony of it. Demanding to “put the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’” sends a message of devotion to Jesus. I would argue that devotion to Jesus might mean a little less judgment and a little more love and tolerance. Especially since Jesus may have been a little more likely to celebrate Hanukkah than Christmas.
This holiday season, I’m going to spend a lot more time trying to make sure that I celebrate Christmas the right way, rather than telling people they need to acknowledge my beliefs.