The other day I was working as a greeter at a department store in the mall. I would welcome people to the store and thank them when they left. As you can imagine scores of people passed by during the 8 hours I stood at the mall entrance. Some people returned my greeting. Others asked directions. Some simply grunted. Some even stopped for a friendly chat. I even had to assist a lady in a medical emergency before paramedics arrived to transport her to the hospital.
One conversation was troubling for me as a Christian. It was not because of somebody doing anything overtly anti-Christian. Nobody cursed at me. Nobody made any lewd comments. In fact, the conversation was with a woman who verbally identified herself as a Christian.
This is how the conversation began:
Frank: “Good afternoon.”
Woman: “What? No ‘Merry Christmas’?”
Frank: “Merry Christmas to you.”
This lead to a lengthy monologue from the lady about her right as a Christian to be greeted with “Merry Christmas.”
Several things troubled me about her monologue. First, until later in the conversation she did not know that I was a Christian. Had I been Jewish, atheist or anything else, I would have heard the same thing.
Second, she told me that she had previously been at one of the other anchor stores in the mall. In that store she had become upset because she was greeted with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” She had asked to speak to a manager to voice her opposition to this perceived travesty.
I can only imagine what the worker and then the manager of that store thought about this demonstration of “Christian” virtue. I am glad that I was the one who had to listen to her in our store instead of somebody who might be wondering what Christianity is all about.
Third, she has a right to be greeted in a certain manner? Really? As an American, I’m not sure that the first amendment dictates how we are greeted. As a Christian, I know that we don’t. Instead we have a responsibility to demonstrate Christ in our interactions with others in the marketplace. I am fairly confident that this is not how Jesus would have responded.
I write this article knowing that many of my Christian friends are publicly supporting attempts for businesses to say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” I understand their motivation. They fear that Christ is being left out of the season. I get that. However, if we as followers of Jesus genuinely spoke and lived as people who grasp the impact of God becoming flesh, we probably would take no offense when greeted with a “Happy Holidays.”
Consider the words themselves. Nobody is complaining about the difference between “merry” and “happy.” The perceived slight is over the use of “holidays” instead of “Christmas.” Christmas is the preferred word for many because it has the word “Christ” in it. But it also has the -mas ending. This ending does not mean birthday. The ending relates to a mass. So Christmas is literally a “Christ Mass.” It seems strange to me that most people insisting on this term, don’t believe in nor participate in any mass.
Now look at the word “holidays.” The first part of the word “holi-” is for the word “holy.” Days, in the past, was a reference to both Christmas and New Years. We have a popular carol titled, “Happy Holidays.” For the Christian, these holy days are days to celebrate the advent and the beginning of a new season.
If we are really so interested in older, God-oriented greetings, then Christians should refrain from saying “good-bye” when parting company with another person. This phrase was originally “God be with ye.” As time went on, it was shortened to “good-bye.” So if you want to insist on the phrase “merry Christmas” you should also be using the phrase “God be with ye.”
In conclusion, I hope that December 25th is a holy day for you focused on the advent of Christ. God be with ye.