While checking out at my local big box store, the despondent cashier rang up my items with the same level of holiday cheer I would expect from a child whose parents just revealed they were actually Santa. Kristin Wiig wouldn’t be able to get this woman to crack a smile. She wouldn’t make eye contact or even ask a half-hearted “Did you find everything OK?” She just dutifully dragged my items across the red scanner. Beep. Beep.
I get it. Once upon a time, I worked retail and it… was… DREADFUL. The most wonderful time of the year is the time of year these crabby employees are working long shifts, skipping breaks, missing their families, tolerating rude customers largely for paychecks much less than they deserve. So, when I encounter an aloof employee, I consider they may have already endured hours of hostility and try to be especially kind.
Between my attempts at small talk and grabbing filled shopping bags, I spot it—the “It’s OK to say ‘Merry Christmas’” button— haphazardly attached to the cashier’s shirt. This grumpy employee (who hasn’t even said “hello”, much less “Merry Christmas”) is apparently a foot solider in the imaginary war against Christmas. As I exit, I spot nearly all employees sporting buttons with similar sentiments.
Even President Elected Donald Trump has enlisted in the battle. During his “Thank You Tour”, he promised a crowd in Michigan that “we’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” In Wisconsin, he spoke to the crowd from behind a podium adorned with a “Merry Christmas” banner surrounded by Christmas trees. (No, seriously.)
In the United States, Christmas is a federal holiday. There’s a National Christmas Tree near the White House. Most Americans can buy Christmas decorations before Halloween. To my knowledge, there is not widespread fear of persecution among Christians wishing to observe Christmas and there are plenty of opportunities for observance. Also, Santa is everywhere. Not in the metaphorical sense either. You can find him at virtually any retail outlet all month long.
Christmas is not and has never been the only winter holiday. Many Americans celebrate Christmas. Some don’t. If you tell someone “Merry Christmas”, they’re more likely to smile and thank you than scold you about political correctness. They’ll probably just be happy someone took the time to say something nice to them. After all, it’s meant to be a nice sentiment, right? You should hope everyone has a merry Christmas even if they spend the day eating Chinese food and watching movies.
However, emboldening the (once again, totally nonexistent) war against Christmas, turns a nice gesture into something hostile. If you’re a Christian so invested in observing the religious nature of Christmas, I’m sure hostile is not the approach you want. Jesus himself, was born, lived, and died a Jew. He also adamantly avoided offending other religious groups. According to John, Jesus came to Jerusalem for the festival of dedication. (Pssst… that’s Hanukkah!) If Jesus lived among us today, would he high-five the cashier and applaud her merry battle cry?
For those who don’t observe Christmas, it can be quite isolating. Muslims spend the month tackling questions from well-meaning acquaintances about why they’re not celebrating Christmas. While a decent sized fraction of Target is devoted to Christmas décor, Jews get an endcap with Star of David window clings. For many, it’s a lonely time of year without being unwilling participants in a culture war.
You don’t have to wear a shiny button that warns others you say “Merry Christmas”. You don’t have to exclaim you’re going to say “Merry Christmas” and not the more inclusive “Happy holidays”. If you’re so compelled to say it, just say it! But, please, don’t say it out of spite. If you’re deliberately saying “Merry Christmas” because you wish to exclude or offend others that do not celebrate it, you’re truly missing the point and good nature behind the sentiment.
So, let’s just keep it simple. Tell me to have a merry Christmas, Chag Chanuka Sameach (Happy Hanukkah), a joyous Kwanzaa, a blessed new year and the happiest of holidays and I will smile and respond with, “thanks, you too.”