Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays
Jan 04, 2010 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
Should Christians care how they are greeted by retail sales people each December. Some Christians think so, even suggesting boycotts on stores that refuse to acknowledge the dominant holiday being celebrated (Christmas), or at least giving extra business to those that do use the C-word. Of course, Christian and non-Christian employees alike are typically asked to say the same thing to their customers, also Christian and non-Christian alike, though typically neither employee nor customer knows who’s who on the other side. So let’s break things down into the four logical combinations.
What is the significance of a non-Christian retailer saying “Merry Christmas” to a non-Christian shopper? At best, not much, just another rote way of exchanging pleasantries. At worst, a sense of participating in a hypocritical exercise, since neither believes in the true meaning of Christmas.
What about a non-Christian retailer greeting a Christian customer that way? Hopefully, the Christian doesn’t need those who don’t believe in Jesus to use a Christian word in order to have the holiday be fully meaningful to them, though they might have the (misplaced) satisfaction in having won a small cultural battle. But at what price? How likely is the non-Christian to draw closer to the threshold of faith by being mandated to use “Merry Christmas” when they realize it’s being done entirely for economic reasons, i.e., so as not to unnecessarily alienate the Christian shopper. Not likely, if anything they’re likely to move further away.
What about a Christian retailer greeting a non-Christian customer with “Merry Christmas”? The Christian could feel like the company has not impinged on their freedoms as much in allowing them to use their preferred form of greeting. But unless they are given the freedom to share their faith in more detail (not likely, ideologically or pragmatically—with long lines of shoppers waiting to check out!), will that simple greeting lead anyone closer to the Lord? If it’s combined with an unusual friendliness and excellent service, it might be one small factor in making them think again, but otherwise probably not. And the chance that practicing Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan and ideologically strident atheists might feel their minority status more acutely and be moved a little bit further from faith is probably again somewhat greater.
That leaves a Christian greeting a Christian with “M. C.” Perhaps each will get a brief warm fuzzy, but we have our churches and Christian fellowships where we can say the magic words to each other as often as we need to in order to get our full complement of warm fuzzies.
So is there any reason why Christians should want retailers to mandate “Merry Christmas”? Not, as far as I can see, if our main goal remains the salvation of as many people as possible. In fact, it seems likely the whole exercise will prove counterproductive if that is our goal. I wonder why so few people take the time to think things through from this angle! Maybe it’s because they still think the holiday is all about shopping—about spending and making money? Perhaps a third greeting option should be required so we all face up to what we’re really doing in the stores: “Happy Capitalism!”