When I was growing up I learned about the “War on Christmas.” Saying Happy Holidays around a “Christian” will land you with some real side-eye shade and maybe even a dramatic, “IT’S MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Nowadays, if you say Happy Holidays, it’s likely you’ll be on the bad end of someone’s social media post or comment.
This War on Christmas, from my estimation, saw its climax in 2015 with Starbucks’ Christmas cups, when the so-called Pastor, Joshua Feuerstein, went on a ridiculous evangelical snap to make them say “Merry Christmas” (No Christ-following person who calls for gun-violence against others just because they don’t agree with your point of view should be considered a Pastor – see here). Since then, at least from what I can tell, the “Let’s all be upset because someone said Happy Holidays” rhetoric has toned down a bit. Nevertheless, after teaching about Chanukah yesterday, I think it’s important we understand why people say “Happy Holidays.”
The whole holiday season really begins on Thanksgiving and goes until the New Year. So let’s get a quick refresher on just a few of the big holidays that transpire during that time:
I throw in St. Nicholas Day because it’s not a big holiday among Christians and it should be. It should be a reminder that this whole Santa Claus thing has been blown out of proportion and instead of honoring the man who glorified God with his actions and wealth, we’ve turned him into a proverbial god-figure that has derailed what Christmas is all about. But I digress.
During the time of Thanksgiving to New Years, there are two other major holidays celebrated in America, “Chanukah and Kwanzaa.” Both of these holidays have to do with giving gifts and spending time with families and friends to celebrate. What if the tables were turned? I lived in Jerusalem for 2 years. How often do you think I heard, “Merry Christmas” during Chanukah season? However, the truth is even in Jerusalem “Happy Holiday (Chag Sameach)” is a normal phrase. We have demonized the term Happy Holidays, when in reality it’s meant to be respectful to everyone, including followers of Jesus who celebrate Christmas.
Aside from Santa Claus being the biggest culprit in the War on Christmas, in my opinion, I want to address another enemy in the war: Christians who are easily offended. Oh boy…I said it. I say it because we’ve been so trained and conditioned to be offended by Happy Holidays. This indoctrination has blinded and constrained us from being able to share the love that God has for us with other people. How can we be ambassadors for Christ when we get upset because someone says Happy Holidays? Dare I say Christmas has become an idol?
What are Christmas and Advent? Ultimately, they’re about a time when we remember Jesus coming to this earth. It’s about God with us – Immanuel! Guess what, Christians: Jesus was Jewish. Chanukah, whether you like it or not, is a part of your roots in the Jewish faith. It may not be a part of your personal history if you aren’t Jewish but it’s still a part of the world in which Jesus was born into as a first century Jew (See here). Maybe if we took the time to learn about and appreciate other cultures we would be able to reach out in more effective ways. We could have deeper conversations about faith and why we celebrate each other’s holidays. If you’re offended about Happy Holidays, maybe you don’t quite know your roots.
Let’s take Paul as an example. Was Paul an offended man because Athens didn’t acknowledge that Jesus was Lord (Acts 17)? No! Instead, Paul walks in there having done his homework. He acknowledges the other religions and begins connecting the dots for them about who Jesus is. But he couldn’t do that if he didn’t take the time to learn about their religions and traditions. They probably never heard about Jesus before. Who would have listened to him if he walked in there mocking their customs? He was educated on other religions so that he could have deep conversations about his faith and theirs. Paul had the willingness and determination to glorify Jesus in every conversation and that meant doing homework on other religions. Why shouldn’t we do the same?
So what do we do? Learn about Kwanzaa and Chanukah this “holiday season.” (And if you have any Japanese friends, you could learn about Ōmisoka too!) Ask around and see if anyone celebrates them. Ask them why it’s important to them and what they think about this whole “Happy Holidays” debacle. Emulate James 1:19. It not only shows you’re willing to learn and hear what other people have to say but, it also gives you the opportunity to share the true meaning of Christmas. It allows you to gain a better perspective on this holiday season and hopefully a better respect for other people in the process.
So what am I saying after all that? I’m saying, “Don’t be offended by people saying ‘Happy Holidays.’” Don’t believe every so-called Pastor on social media telling you what to be offended about. Spend some time learning about WHY people say Happy Holidays and how you as a Christ-follower can use this season to share about your faith and why the world needs Jesus. I guarantee you 10/10 times, if someone says, “Happy Holidays” and you respond with some self-righteous disgruntled “Merry Christmas” it will demolish your ability to share the love of Jesus with them. So you not only make yourself look bad, you make Jesus look bad in the process. Remember that whole ambassador thing (2 Cor. 5:18-20)? We should take it seriously.
If you’re still reading and not too offended, it should go without saying that X-Mas is okay and not a bad thing. If you don’t know why you should probably learn how to spell Christ in Greek. You’ll get it.