, Salem, MA

December 2, 2013

Letter: In defense of Christmas

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Someone recently asked me if I say “Merry Christmas” to people or “Happy Holidays.” She also asked if I am offended when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas.” My knee-jerk response is, “As a Christian pastor, it would seem rather strange if I was offended by someone wishing me a Merry Christmas, no?”

I often say Merry Christmas, because that is the holiday I celebrate — and I mean no offense to anyone when I say it. I also say Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends. Many of them say Merry Christmas to me. (We are big boys and girls. We can take it.)

Here is my problem with “Happy Holidays.” The term is too generic. It is meaningless. Why don’t we say “Happy Holidays” in the early fall? Between the first Monday in September and Nov. 11, we celebrate three holidays: Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day (respectively). Those are holidays.

Dec. 25 is Christmas Day whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or an atheist, just as the Fourth of July is the celebration of America’s Independence whether you are American, British, Yugoslavian or an anarchist who lives in a log cabin in the hinterlands. Who you are, what you do and what you believe does not change the calendar, as self-important as you may be.

Secular materialism has hijacked Christmas, turning it into an opportunity for Macy’s, Target, and Wal-Mart to meet their fourth-quarter projections. They do not want to offend anyone. (That will cost them millions of dollars!) Therefore, corporate consumerism has turned the entire season into “holidays” so that everyone can buy gifts for anyone.

The season used to start the day after Thanksgiving. Now it begins around Halloween, when Starbucks breaks out its red-and-white Christmas (I mean “holiday”) cups and L.L. Bean sends its “buy our clothes and boots for everyone you know because it is that time of year” catalog. It doesn’t matter what you believe. Let’s not exclude anyone, so let’s rename a sacred holy day on the Christian calendar to be an all-inclusive, capitalistic opportunity. “In God we trust!” (Isn’t it funny how even atheists carry pieces of paper in their wallet with that slogan printed on it, but they are not offended by doing so?)

That does not change the fact that Dec. 25 is Christmas.

If a person is not a Christian and does not want to refer to this time of year as such, that is totally fine with me. They can celebrate whatever they want. Frank Costanza (George’s hotheaded father on “Seinfeld”) celebrated Festivus. God bless him!

Jews celebrate Hanukkah. Members of the Western African Diaspora celebrate Kwanza. Mr. Costanza celebrates Festivus. Great! None of them should be ashamed to do so, nor should they feel mortified because their holidays — which are in no way offensive — somehow upset others.

The same is true of Christmas.

I do not see how people can be offended by a holiday that is celebrated by members of a specific religion to which they do not subscribe. I am not offended when my friend Lauren wishes me a Happy Hanukkah. In fact, I love it. If my friend Brandon, who is black, wishes me a Happy Kwanza, I say, “Thanks, man! Right back at cha!” I also do not hear anyone in our secular culture trying to change the names of Hanukkah or Kwanza. Trying to do so would be “offensive” to Jews and African-Americans — and rightly so! That is their holiday. Do not co-opt it and change its name because you do not celebrate it, but you want to receive presents from grandma on those days just the same.

If you do not like Hanukkah, then don’t light the menorah. If you don’t like Kwanza, then do not share the Kikombe cha Umoja. If you do not like Festivus, then do not participate in the Feats of Strength. And if you do not like Christmas, then don’t sing “Silent Night.” That said, do not tell me what I can or cannot celebrate. (I am sorry, but you do not have that right. I will determine what holidays I celebrate, thank you very much.) Furthermore, do not do the same to my Jewish and African-American brothers and sisters, although I highly doubt you ever would. You would offend them if you did — and if I were one of them, I’d be offended, too.

As for me, I am going to celebrate Christmas — and I hope you have a merry one!

John Tamilio III