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Why I, as a Christian reverend, am saying Happy Holidays, not Merry Christmas

Why I, as a Christian reverend, am saying Happy Holidays, not Merry Christmas

Donald Trump declines to say if he opposes. or supports, marriage equality

The war on Christmas is not going away any time soon.

With Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and Christmas all celebrated this time of year, one would think we would embrace an all-inclusive seasonal greeting – Happy Holidays!

But every year there’s controversy over these two simple words.

This year it started with the inanity over the new design of Starbucks red holiday cup that didn’t have a Christmas theme or the greeting ‘Merry Christmas’.

‘Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus. Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red,’ Joshua Feuerstein spewed in a viral anti-Starbucks rant on Facebook.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump stoked the frenzy.

‘I have one of the most successful Starbucks in Trump Tower,’ Trump said. ‘Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? By the way, that’s the end of that lease but who cares.’

Trump tied his verbal boycott of Starbucks to one of his presidential promises.

‘I’m a good Christian,’ Trump stated back in October. ‘If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store … You can leave happy holidays at the corner.’

When this holiday season rolls around we can always count on the same kerfuffle and the same claims of a ‘War on Christmas’.

It has even happened in my liberal backyard. In 2012 the then governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, generated an international storm by calling the state house Christmas tree a ‘holiday tree’.

The decorated evergreen coniferous tree that has come to be known as the Christmas tree began in 16th century Northern Germany. And Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was the first to add lighted candles.

And these traditions are hard to let go of or even to expand to include our present-day religiously diverse and atheist country.

For example, in 2005 when Nova Scotian tree farmer Donnie Hatt gave Boston its tree, he told the Boston Globe he ‘would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a ‘”holiday” tree… Ever since I was born, a tree was put up for Christmas, not for holidays, because if you’re going to do that you might as well put a tree up for Easter.’

So is there really a war on Christmas?

Well, it depends not only on whom you ask, but which type of Christian you are.

Some see the war on Christmas as an assault on Christianity, where the mere utterance of the word is gradually being expunged. It feels to these Christian holiday revelers, the country, in its effort to be political correct, is moving toward religious intolerance.

In an email exchange, a friend from North Carolina wrote me: ‘It’s a Xmas tree for me and holiday tree doesn’t cut it. This PCness feels like it’s over the top. Next will be the word “Easter”… And what about “Saint” as in St Patrick Day…a big deal in Boston.’

But there is a difference, in my opinion, between Christian apologists and Christmas apologists.

For many Christians this high holy holiday is their religious bedrock. It anchors them in their faith and shapes and governs them in their view of the world.

The Narnia author and Christian apologist CS Lewis eloquently captured this essence when he wrote in 1945: ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’

But Christmas apologists refuse to see anything else because the war on Christmas is about their cultural dominance and they are fighting back with all their might.

Homophobic Christian evangelist Pat Robertson said on his 700 Club television show that the problem is Muslims: ‘If people don’t like America and the traditions that made America great, let them go to Saudi Arabia, let them go to Pakistan. Yeah, they can go to Sudan and find a wonderful Muslim holiday.’

Trump has taken Robertson’s Islamophobia to a fascist level in his most recent public diatribe stating that our government should ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, even American Muslims returning home from overseas.

Truth be told, Muslims, secular progressives and Jews, even atheists, have never been the folks trying to abolish Christmas. Instead, it was once an extreme group of Protestants – yes, the Puritans.

With 25 December deriving from the Saturnalia, the Roman heathen’s wintertime celebration, and with the date found nowhere in the Bible stating it as the birthday of Jesus, the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681.

The intolerance of a multicultural theme for this holiday has little to do with the birth of Christ or the fading of an American holiday. Instead, it has much to do with a backlash as our country grows more religiously pluralistic.

For me as a Christian, the central message of this holiday is the embrace and celebration of human differences and diversity. It is with this message that I know all people – religious and non-religious, straight and queer, black and white – can be included as we enjoy and celebrate this season. And for that, we need only one simple greeting: Happy Holidays!