Merry, happy, Christmas greetings

What does “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings!” really mean? It was common to hear that from businesses when I was growing up and just today I received two cards from conservative Baptist institutions with that sentiment on the front. I’ve always assumed that it meant, “Since everything turns into one big feast and shopping spree from Thanksgiving to New Years, let’s just offer a generic greeting for the last six weeks of the year.” Some of us have come to suspect something more sinister.

Maybe now it really is a sop to religious/cultural diversity. That’s easy to assume when a business makes a more vague greeting the official company line as Wal-Mart did for a short time. Maybe they were trying to avoid offending Muslims (less than one percent in America) who celebrate Ramadan, Jews (2.2 percent in America) who celebrate Hanukah, or a few African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa. Perhaps the goal was to keep employees from creating their own greetings advocating anything from Christmas to Festivus. Either way, Wal-Mart now acknowledges Christmas as the primary American holiday of the season.

I’ll admit the whole thing gets silly. I’ve received cards with a manger scene and “Happy Holidays” underneath. Tammi has some cards with Snoopy being decorated as a Christmas tree by his little friend Woodstock. They say “Seasons Greetings.” It’s a Christmas-tree, Hallmark. Stick your neck out a bit. I also believe there is a fear that customers will rise up and call you biased if you leave out the Muslims (whose holiday ended in October this year) or atheists. That’s a particularly far-fetched fear; atheists don’t have a “holy day” during this season because they don’t believe there is anyone to thank or to send a savior. It makes corporate leaders look like wimps.

On the other hand, businesses are in this to make money. If they torture themselves for some politically correct fantasy, whose business is it but their own? Perhaps I can suggest some ways we might better spend our energy.

Christian people want our big holidays to remain religious. While I find the half-dozen secular Christmas standards cycling through the background music grating, I’m not being persecuted by this musical tastelessness. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and other holidays can be God-honoring if we make them so. We don’t actually need Wal-Mart or Target to help.

First, set your own priorities. It’s too easy to let the general cultural mood call the tune. Advertising can make us feel cheap, lazy, primitive, and downright Scrooge-like if we listen to them. Without this kind of external motivation why would anyone pay over $2,000 for a $600 Playstation 3 on eBay? I assume it’s because you’re a good parent if you deliver the newest and hottest and disappointing if you don’t. The urgency is false.

Another part of the mood is busyness. Church people can definitely understand how an overscheduled December can take some of the appropriate joy out of everything we do. Churches and individuals must not buy into the lie that every opportunity is a mandate. Around Christmas we’re taking about every opportunity for a party, concert, event, or service project. There is just more good available to us than we have any business experiencing.

Second, make your own celebrations God-centered. No one can stop you from doing that and no one needs to help you. If you think the biblical Christmas story needs to be at the center of things, make it so. Read the story to your family; read also the prophecies fulfilled in the Gospel narrative. If you like the traditional carols, sing them loudly in public or put them on your CD player as you travel about.

Next, be a selective buyer. Our kids and grandkids are not the best judges of what’s good for them. They ask for too much (or the wrong things) and we want them to like us. We’re the ones who decide, though. When someone opens a gift, it should reflect both the giver and the relationship of the giver to the recipient. It should not be a test of the giver’s taste, popularity, or generosity. Perhaps you’ve experienced that moment of doubt when someone unwraps a gift from you. You say, “I hope you like it. You can take it back if you don’t.” Stop that. Give in love (and wisdom) and stop worrying about your poll numbers.

On a related point, be selective in your holiday entertainment. This is the biggest season for movies, partly because many families will go and see nearly anything that comes out around Christmas. Not everything that is animated or PG rated is even remotely worthwhile, by the way. A good rule of thumb for this year is to take your family to see “The Nativity Story” twice for every time they see anything with dancing penguins, a hilarious Santa, or a talking reindeer. I’m just kidding, sort of.


Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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