This “war” has come to overshadow what the season supposedly represents. If the champions of Christmas want to preserve the message of hope and goodwill, they can begin by exercising a lot more of both.
Let’s start with a few facts. It’s clear that many people who don’t follow the Christian faith actively push for less religious emphasis on the holiday, considering it exclusionary and revisionist—Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on December 25, a date chosen by the church 300-plus years later. On the other hand, many Christians feel efforts to genericize the centuries-old tradition and what it means to them constitute an attack on their beliefs.
There are regular skirmishes on both sides. Local governments are assailed on an annual basis for allowing Nativity or Hanukkah displays on public property. Retailers are threatened with boycotts for favoring the term “holiday” over “Christmas” in their advertising. Schools face the hopeless task of honoring all views while offending no one. (In fact, I’ve been personally involved in the latter, helping an elementary school craft a level-headed policy when a parent objected to Christmas carols.)
Being a Christian, I hold the Christmas holiday in high regard. It has deep meaning for me. But its value is rooted in what it represents. Fighting for a turn of phrase instead of the belief upon which it’s built will win no war.
In recent years, social media has opened an entirely new battlefield. It’s true that some among the anti-religion masses use it to ridicule the Advent crowd. Yet I cringe when self-professed Christians angrily post, “No one is going to tell ME I can’t say ‘Merry Christmas’!” making a cantankerous claim about a greeting that should be anything but.
On that point, the Bible has something to say: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).
How often do we say “Merry Christmas” without doing something meaningful to make it so?
The modern church is mystified by its reputation of being quick to condemn and slow to care. To be sure, some of this reputation is unfairly assigned. Yet, sadly, some of it is earned by people who would rather dig a foxhole than extend a hand.
As I’ve said in this space many times, public relations is about “walking the talk”—holding fast to high ethical standards and building relationships in which dialogue happens and positive change takes place. All who cherish Christmas would do well to embrace this thinking.
I'm not suggesting it's wrong to hold onto "Merry Christmas." I relish those words as well. But do you really want to change the course of the Yuletide war? Skip the boycotts over meaningless ad copy and take aim at the real enemies: poverty, injustice and despair.
As a Christian, I’m equally comfortable waging that war under a shout of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays."