People in the media, fearful of offending anyone, shy away from wishing others “Merry Christmas”. Yet, they cannot suppress the fact that something very special is going on. They do feel an obligation to say something, lest they be seen as anti-social and out of step with the times. And so, they use a substitute and wish others “Happy Holidays”. These two words have been set to music and follow people from their car radios to shopping malls. There is no escape from this dubious phrase.
This fear has been successfully communicated even to Christians. In some circles, red and green colored cookies are banned from Christmas festivities. Christmas should never be a cause of shame or embarrassment. It is safer to depict Santa Claus on Christmas gift wrapping than the babe born in a manger. Christmas has become, for many, a more economical than theological event.
The plural—holidays—includes both Christmas and New Year’s Day. In order to make these two holidays relatively equal, carried under the same banner, however, the former must be diminished and the latter elevated. This is a terrible injustice to the truth of the matter. Christmas and New Year’s Day are not of equal importance. The Nativity happened once, though it can live in people’s hearts until the end of time. The New Year has taken place every year since God said “Let there be light”. “Happy holidays” is really an insult to Christians. Happy New Year is close to being as anemic as saying “Have a nice day”. We wish each other well. And that is fine. But we are not holy and our own benevolent wishes lack a power that only God possesses.
We should not forget that the word “holiday” is derived from the word “holy’. Is January 1 holy simply because it is the beginning of a new year? What is holy does not originate from the secular world. It comes from on high. God is holy and the incarnation of his holiness came into the world on Christmas Day. Concerning this, we should want to share our merriment with others. We should not be hesitant to announce the birth of Christ, not only during Christmas time, but on a daily basis. In his homily in Manger square in Bethlehem on March 22, in the year 2000, Saint John Paul II told his worshippers that “Every day is Christmas in the hearts of Christians. And every day we are called to proclaim the message of Bethlehem to the world—‘good news of real joy.’ The eternal Word, ‘God from God, Light from Light,’ has become flesh and has made his dwelling among us”.
One of Venerable Bishop Sheen’s favorite jokes was about the atheist who had to give up his disbelief because in this barren world there were no holidays. The joke has an illuminating point. As human beings, we were made for something more than this world can give us. Our hearts long for something that is not stained by imperfection. Simply stated, we were made to be with God. St. Augustine said it quite beautifully, “O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams”. If the Bishop of Hippo were alive today he would be wishing everyone in sight a Merry Christmas.
The world cannot celebrate itself. This is much too self-serving. The world can truly celebrate only that which is holy because holiness is a blessing that comes from God. “Pure, holy simplicity,” St. Francis of Assisi tells us, “confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh”.
There is a considerable drop in meaning from “Silent night, holy night,” and “O Holy Night” to “Happy Holidays”. The world cannot absorb Christmas into itself. Christmas took place to bless the world with peace and joy to men of good will. The question now is whether we have good will.
I will abstain from wishing people I meet, “Happy Holidays”. I will continue to regale them with my heartiest “Merry Christmas”.