Don’t misunderstand: I really do like Christmas. But as my essays should make clear, I am not a Christian, nor do I celebrate Christmas in a completely typical American fashion. I do like to share my happy holiday feelings with my friends and loved ones, and that sounds familiar so it could lead to confusion.
I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine wherein I pointed out that definitions, like histories, are decided by the majority over time. Once upon a time, if you looked up the word “gay” in a dictionary, all you would find is “lighthearted and carefree”, “cheerful or pleasant”, and “brightly-colored, showy”. When enough people used the word to mean “homosexual” from the 1930s to the 1960s, that definition began to be included in dictionaries, and eventually became the primary meaning.
Christmas is still defined as the Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, held on December 25th. So, if some church committee came to me and demanded that I write a retraction for all of my blogs on the basis that I had misused the name of their holiday… Well, I would probably ignore them, but I might admit that they had a valid point. That’s the reason why I keep pointing out that my views only apply to me.
If I tell you “Merry Christmas!”, then I’m attempting to communicate that to you with the hopes that you’ll understand my statement and be able to react in a positive way. Communication stems from building a structure out of a vocabulary, passing that structure to another being, and the other being deciphering the meaning of the statement by defining the original vocabulary used with the help of his own personal lexicon. If your lexicon doesn’t have a subordinate listing of Christmas as ‘Paul Roth’s Agnostic recognition of a time of the year when it is socially acceptable or emotionally advantageous to behave in a gregarious, compassionate, and excessively charitable manner, in a one month period focused on, but not centered around, December 25th’, then you can’t understand my statement. You might think I mean, “Hey, I’m a Christian and I’m attempting to force my beliefs upon you in a concealed attempt to evangelize my worldview to heretics by means of an apparent gesture of friendliness.” Or maybe I mean that I’ve been brainwashed into saying this every December so I just said it again.
The problem is, my words probably sound like yours. If you hear a french speaker proclaim “Joyeux Noel!”, then you might scramble to a translation dictionary to figure out what that meant, but you’re going to assume that you know what Merry Christmas means since you can find that in your own mental dictionary. If I were the sort of person that got labeled Politically Correct back when everybody was using that phrase, I might be concerned about this possibility of misinformation. As I am who I am, I really just care enough to make a blog entry about it, and this is really more for me and my friends than to change the world. Although, come to think of it, that approach does change the world on occasion.
When I say (or sing) Happy Holidays, I realize that I’m not interpreting this season as a time to revere a Holy Day. I also realize that whomever hears me, might do just that. I don’t celebrate this time of year for anyone else, though; I celebrate it for myself! When I give you Season’s Greetings, it’s because I want to share my happiness, not because I want to convince you to be happy with me. That would be nice, and if we were sharing happiness together, I might feel even better — but I don’t need that. I’m having a Merry Christmas on my own, with or without you.
My Christmas rarely involves prayer, never involves churches, and no longer involves family. My Christmas doesn’t have to be anything but mine. For that matter, anyone else’s Christmas doesn’t have to be anyone’s but her own. I hear people tell me to have Happy Holidays when they themselves are Jewish and I’m pretty sure that if they recognize anything around this time of year, it would be Hanukkah, but I don’t get riled up about it. When someone tells me to have a Blessed Day, that sounds a bit more like they are trying to push their god on me, but recent realizations have made me consider that’s an appropriate thing and I try to take that in stride as well. After all, whether my day is blessed or not is no reflection on the fact that the well wisher wanted to wish me well.
Here’s my point, and it’s an attempt to start another front in the war against Christmas (so that it’s a three front war: the war against Christmas, the war against the war against Christmas, and war against people warring for foolish reasons): Your holiday sentiments are yours. Other peoples’ sentiments are theirs. If you don’t like theirs, then don’t use them. If you want to argue for or against the legitimacy of Christianity, I applaud you for your determination, but responding to a wish for well-being is not the cue for it.
When someone wishes me a Blessed Day, I don’t tell them that I don’t believe in their God. I either say Thank You or just don’t say anything at all. I’ll question a person’s religious beliefs when they start evangelizing to me with the intent to convince me to join them or if someone asks me about mine. For today, I’ll pretty much tell everyone “Merry Christmas”, and it’ll mean that this is exactly what I’m trying to have. Sure, if anyone else views this whole topic the way I do, it would be great if theirs were merry, too. But I’ll let them have whatever type of December 25th they want.
So let’s try it out and see what happens: Merry Christmas!