L. Neil Smith's
Number 348, December 18, 2005

"I wouldn't wish that fate on my very worst enemy."

All I Want For Christmas Is To End This Stupid War
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

I like how people these days are out of their goddam minds.

When I was a kid, nobody cared if you said "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." Both phrases had the same degree of utility. I distinctly remember this.

Back then, "Merry Christmas" was the odds-on favorite just because more people celebrated Christmas than any other holiday. This is still true, but the difference is, back then, it didn't matter if you said "Merry Christmas" to someone who didn't celebrate Christmas, because you didn't really mean they should be merry about Jesus. You just meant they should have a festive month of December. For all intents and purposes, "Merry Christmas" was the "shalom" of holiday greetings. People used it the same way they used "hello" and "goodbye."

"Happy Holidays" was exactly the same, except slightly different. It didn't mean you should enjoy every holiday in December whether you liked it or not; it just meant you should enjoy whichever ones you celebrated. For some people, this meant Christmas. For others, it meant Chanukah. And for others, it meant Hanukah. It would've meant Kwanzaa, too, if Kwanzaa existed back then (which, to the best of my recollection, it didn't). But the point is, no one ever accused you of bowing at the altar of diversity if you said "Happy Holidays." No one ever said that the phrase was "just another example of political correctness run amok."

Back then, people said whatever they wanted to say. And for better or worse, they thought nothing of it.

Now everything's all screwed up.

According to Fox News, there is a War on Christmas going on in this country. And because of this war, "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" are politically loaded phrases. In fact, they've come to be known as natural rivals. Whichever greeting you choose, it says something about where you stand ideologically now. If you say "Merry Christmas," you lean to the Right. And if you say "Happy Holidays," you lean to the Left.

As someone who doesn't like to put much thought into the things I say to people, I find this somewhat annoying.

Every year, right around Thanksgiving, you start to hear horror stories about nativity scenes being banned from town halls, or Christmas carols from public school holiday concerts. Then Bill O'Reilly comes on and lets you know about the stores you should avoid, like Target and Sears, because they used "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in their circulars (which is nothing like Bill's nemesis, Jesse Jackson, who calls for boycotts for not hiring black people). This year, there's even a book about the War on Christmas called "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought," by John Gibson, which provides 256 pages of documented proof that Christmas is the central front in a larger war between secular liberals and conservative Christians.

For this reason, you're not supposed to say "Happy Holidays" anymore, because "Happy Holidays" is no longer an innocent seasonal greeting. It's an insidious weapon, designed to "take Christ out of Christmas." If you say it, swarms of card-carrying ACLU members will come to your town and unplug your Christmas tree and ruin America. You've got to stand up and say "Merry Christmas" and watch Fox News instead.

Now, personally, I don't doubt that the things being reported as War on Christmas skirmishes are actually happening. Whether they constitute a concentrated anti-Christmas campaign is another story. They could just be a series of isolated incidents. I wouldn't know. Part of me wants to believe that this war is legitimate. I mean, it's the only way to explain why some people would be calling Christmas trees "holiday spruces" now. At least with a war that term would have context. Otherwise, it's just plain irritating in that let's-show-how-intelligent-we-are-by-being-inclusive sort of way. But then part of me thinks this whole War on Christmas is only so much paranoia. Calling Christmas trees "holiday spruces" may be stupid, but what's it matter? There's nothing inherently Christian about Christmas trees anyway. They're pagan symbols. Christ was born in a manger—not under a pine tree. And he was probably delivered by Joseph—not Santa.

I think there will always be non-Christians who resent Christianity's overwhelming influence on our culture, just like there will always be Christians who resent non-Christians for not being Christian. That's just the way it is. I'm over it.

But this is what leads me to my overall point.

I'm not bringing up the War on Christmas because I want to resolve the differences between the two sides. I'm not even bringing it up because I'm trying to prove or disprove that the war is actually happening. No. I'm bringing it up because its coverage alone directly affects me. Because of this war, I'm supposed to watch what I say around this time of year. All of a sudden, I'm supposed to put thought into whether I say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."

Why is this a problem for me? It's a problem because putting thought into these phrases defeats the point of saying them in the first place.

I'm the kind of person who appreciates convenience and expediency in my dealings with fellow human beings. Put another way: If I don't know you, then I don't really like you; and if we're going to talk to each other, I'd like to make it brief.

I don't say things like "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" because I care if people are merry, or because my words will somehow make them happy if they aren't already. I say these things because they humanize me. They make me seem like a normal person, when, deep down, I feel like I'm too good to talk to people. To me, saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" is the same thing as if I blessed you after you sneezed. I realize your soul isn't escaping through your nose holes. There's nothing you need me to bless here. I'm just saying "God bless you"—or the secular "Bless you"—because that's what people say when someone sneezes. If I partake in these small little gestures, then I can get away with my regular attitude, which tends to be curmudgeonly.

That's all phrases like "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" really exist for. They have nothing at all to do with religion. They're for people like me to let people like you know we can successfully co-exist with one another.

That's what bugs me about this War on Christmas. Before it started, I could use "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" whenever I wanted. I could use one for a while, and then use the other when I got tired of it. It didn't matter who I said what to, because even the people who didn't like it weren't about to complain.

But now? All that's changed. Now, if I say "Happy Holidays," and the person I say it to celebrates Christmas, I run the risk of offending them. They'll start to think I'm some kind of diversity-worshipping liberal tree-hugger who only hugs holiday spruces but wants to cut down all those good old-fashioned Christian evangelical pine trees. I don't want that reputation. It's not accurate. I don't worship diversity. In fact, I'm not even sure I like people who aren't like me. But at the same time, I can't go around saying "Merry Christmas," either. Because now that people have decided they care whether you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" to them, I run the risk of coming across like some self-righteous bigot who wants to shove Christmas down non-Christian throats. I'm nothing like that. And even if I was, I wouldn't want that reputation, because I'd hate to give John Gibson the satisfaction.

So I don't know what to say anymore. I'm at a loss.

The way I see it, people need to get over themselves and stop being so easily offended in this country. I know a lot of people like to say exactly what I just said in the previous sentence, but I don't think most of them believe it, because most of them turn around and get offended by things like "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" anyway. These phrases were never meant to be political weapons. They're a common courtesy, like free mints and toothpicks on the counter in a restaurant. It's like when you see someone that you haven't seen in a long time, and they tell you, "Say hi to so and so for me." You always say that you will, but only to bow out of the conversation gracefully. It's not like you're actually going to tell so and so that such and such said hi to them. That's ridiculous. If that's how people communicated, nothing would ever get done.

The point is, anyone who can figure out a way to be offended by "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" probably deserves to be offended. Instead of getting all self-righteous and outraged about two simple, meaningless words, you should be thankful that anyone's going out of their way to wish you well.

I don't know what I'll say to people this December. Maybe I won't say anything to anyone. Or maybe I'll find the strength within me to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" in spite of how uncomfortable I now feel with using them. I don't know. But at this point, I'm leaning towards an altogether different seasonal greeting. The way I figure, if people are going to be offended by what I say anyway, then I might as well get the most out of offending them. So from now on, I think I'm just going to say, "Whatever your faith, go f--- yourself," to complete and total strangers. Just lay it on them out of nowhere while I'm walking down the street or picking up breakfast one Saturday at the bagel store.

I know it isn't as catchy as "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." And it probably won't help me come across like a normal member of society, either. But I still sort of hope it catches on.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.

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