Monday, December 19, 2005

Happy Holidays


(The opinions expressed below are those of the blog owner. If you don't like it, you don't have to read it!)

This “holiday” thing is getting out of hand – and I blame Bill O’Reilly and his ilk for trying to steal people’s joy and divide the nation at a time of year that usually symbolizes peace and unity.

For those who missed it, O’Reilly and the Christian Coalition (read: radical fundamentalists) are waging a war on the phrase "Happy Holiday(s)." Their lack of research to the phrase’s origins before going on the attack is blatantly obvious.

First, neither democrats nor liberals invented the phrase "Happy Holiday(s)," nor are they trying to “steal Christmas.” The phrase has been around longer than there have been democrats and republicans, and the last thing we need right now is people who willfully attempt to divide people. It’s particularly odious this time of year, when people speak of "Peace on earth, good will to men." Apparently for some, that goodwill only extends to those who share their narrow-minded views.

Second, the Irving Berlin song "Happy Holiday" was written in 1942 and introduced in the Bing Crosby classic movie "Holiday Inn." The phrase predates that by quite a bit.

Third, I’m more than willing to call an evergreen draped in tinsel and lights a Christmas tree (I have all my life!) – so long as Christians concede it has nothing to do with Christ, but is actually a pagan symbol of the winter solstice adopted as a "Christian" symbol by converts reluctant to completely leave behind their pagan ways.

"Historians agree that through the subsequent centuries, traditions from ancient pagan (non-Christian) religions became intertwined with those of Christianity, and depending upon one's point of view, either paganism became Christianized, or Christianity became paganized." (Article: Christmas in America becomes battleground)

Fourth, it’s called "winter" break, same as there’s a fall break, spring break and summer break. It is a break that occurs around the beginning of winter, and just happens to coincide with Christmas – as well as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. By the same token, a school or community concert at this time of year is legitimately a "winter concert" – and yes, there are spring concerts as well. I played in both through high school, and our programs included both seasonal selections ("Yuletide Festival," Mozart’s "Sleigh Ride" and selections from "The Nutcracker Suite") as well as non-seasonal selections. Granted, I think rewriting the lyrics of traditional Christmas carols goes a bit too far, but as long as other selections are included, I see nothing wrong with choirs or bands playing a Christmas carol or two. In fact, one of the things I miss most about college was the annual Christmas concert – a truly spectacular event. And watching "Holiday With the Pops" and the St Olaf’s concert has become a Christmas Eve tradition. I think there is nothing better than to be exposed to carols from around the world, or music from other faiths. Music is universal, no matter what might be on the program. It is the one language you don’t have to be fluent in to truly appreciate it.

Fifth, people of many different faiths celebrate Christmas, in some capacity of another. I know Muslims who celebrate it in addition to their own holy days. I know atheists who celebrate Christmas as a time of peace and giving. The holiday doesn’t have to include Christ in order for it to have deep meaning for people. Religion is a very personal matter, and while some have deeply rooted Christian beliefs, others’ beliefs are not so strictly regimented, or may be formed from a more universal upbringing or education.

Sixth, the word "holiday" means "holy day" and through the centuries has come to have a more Christian context. The "Holiday Season" originally referred to not just Christmas, but first Michaelmas (a huge feast day at the end of September), then later Boxing Day (a day when alms were given to the poor), and Epiphany (when the wise men are said to have arrived in Bethlehem) — three of which are not recognized or celebrated in the US, but are by other countries. Now, of course, the "holiday season" has been expanded to include Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa and that, for some inexplicable reason, offends some Christians.

My beliefs are not yours, as yours are not mine. I tend to hold more Unitarian views on religion than most of my friends, but I am proud to count Christians, Wiccans, Atheists and people of other religious persuasions among my friends and family. And, I’ll allow, I am much richer for the experience than those who do not welcome views that contradict their own.

It may in fact surprise most Christians to know that "Christmas" was not one of the original holy days celebrated by the church, and that it was banned by English Parliament in 1644, which demanded shops stay open that day, and condemning plum puddings and mince pies as "heathen." In this country, Christmas was not celebrated by early settlers (many Christians still do not celebrate it), and it was even suppressed by the Puritans. In Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 it was illegal to celebrate Christmas, the fine being five schillings. It was not until the 19th century that Christmas was legally recognized.

Even Christian evangelists such as Garner Ted Armstrong of Tyler, Texas has proclaimed for more than 45 years that, "It is impossible to 'put Christ back in Christmas,' since He was never in Christmas in the first place! None of the apostles of Christ ever heard of the term; not one of them ever celebrated Christ's birthday."

And while we are on the subject, abbreviating "Christmas" with "Xmas" is perfectly legitimate and does not, as many errantly believe, remove Christ from Christmas. The letter "X" represents the Greek letter chi, the first letter in the Greek word Χριστός, which means "Christ."

Do I celebrate Christmas? Yes. Do I celebrate it as the birth of Christ? Not really. To me, as with many of my friends, Christmas is a time of family and of giving. That does not mean it is a meaningless time of year for us, but perhaps more meaningful. Though we give to charity year-round, we pay particular attention to our local community this time of year, donating toys to needy children and blankets to Hospice Care. We not only give to The Salvation Army (recognizing that they serve all people, not just Christians in need), but also teach children we know the importance of giving, and of sacrifice.

How each of us chooses to celebrate this time of year is of no one’s concern but our own. The Bill of Rights grants us the freedom to worship as we wish, or not. It is also supposed to ensure that no one religion or denomination is imposed on the masses, a fact that seems lost by many in this great land of ours. If you want me to respect you and your beliefs, then please "do unto others" and accord me the same. No matter how or what you celebrate, this is a joyous time of year, and neither that fact, nor the message of "Peace on earth, good will to men" should ever be forgot.

For more on the historical origins of the Christmas celebration, I highly recommend The History Channel or this article at World Net.

And to you and yours, peace on earth,
good will towards all, and happy holidays!


Maggie Nash said...

So what do you write when your're upset about something?

Hey, I agree that the season is for all people whatever the creed.

I also think that you can say Happy Christmas if you want to, Happy Hannukah, Shalom....whatever. Whatever it means to you...

FreeThinker said...

Well said! I agree wholeheartedly.

Winter Solstice Greetings to you and yours!

Cyn said...

Well said, Heather. You know how I feel about the holidays, especially when religions push on being "right" without doing the proper research into the historical reasons behind their holidays.

I wish people would stop, regain a sense of balance and realize that if they want their religious beliefs to be honoured, they better get off their high horse and start honouring other people's beliefs too. Otherwise, they might be a bit shocked when they're shown they're following pagan beliefs-- especially since it's totally impossible for Jesus to be born in December in Israel during the cold, rainy season where NO shepherds would be caught outside.

Bratty said...

*hugs* Bill O'Reilly is an idiot. A complete wonking idiot. But because he's on TV, what he says is the word of God, isn't that right?

Can we please go back to radio?