The Day "Merry Christmas!" Died
- 2009 Dec 27
Hi!! I'm back!
Did you all have a great Christmas?! Whaddya get?! Cuz, you know, outside of the whole thing with Jesus and all, that's what really matters.
Speaking of which: It seems to me that this is the year that the phrase "Merry Christmas" died, finally choked to death by the vapid, opportunistic ambiguity of "Happy Holidays."
To be clear: I like the sentiment behind "Happy Holidays." I think it's good and important to acknowledge that the "Christmas" season really is a holiday season; that it's also the time of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. I've got zero problem acknowledging that. What I do have a problem with is perfectly captured in an experience my wife and I had at Disneyland last week.
It was Christmas Eve day. Cat and I were at Disneyland with a couple friend we were visiting in Los Angeles. As you may know, every year Disneyland puts in its Main Street plaza a Christmas tree so huge it would freak out Paul Bunyan. The four of us happened to be in the shops near the tree when we heard the rich tones of the Omnipotent Disney Announcer announce that the lights on the tree were about to turn on. We and the other fifteen or twenty thousand other people in the immediate vicinity quickly crowded about the tree. Yay! The lighting of the Christmas tree!
The announcer began preparing us for the lovely spectacle, by talking about the power of wishing and hoping, and how good little boys and girls never yank the wings off fairies, or whatever. But he came to the Big Moment, and everyone held their breath as they waited for this magnificent, splendidly decorated tree to light up---and then he said, "And now, as we light the tree, let us all say in one voice, "'Happy Holidays!'" And you could just feel everyone deflate as the tree was lit up. The reaction wouldn't have been less enthusiastic if the thing hadn't lit up at all.
People were all geared up to cry "Merry Christmas!" and were disappointed they didn't get to. Telling people to say "Happy Holidays!" when a Christmas tree is lit is like having people sing "Old MacDonald" when a birthday cake is brought out. It's just ... FAIL.
Because that is a Christmas tree they were lighting. I don't mind if Disneyland or anyone else wants to turn their Christmas tree into a "Holiday tree." But then they need to make it a holiday tree. But that part of "Happy Holidays" never happens. No store or business puts a little Menorahs on its tree. I didn't see any dradles on the Disneyland tree. Not a Kwanzaa communal cup brightened its boughs. It was strictly a Christmas tree. Those were Christmas decorations on that tree, and nothing else.
It drives me crazy the way retailers, businesses, and advertisers are delighted to keep all the stuff that marks Christmas as Christmas---the tree, the songs, the presents, the decorations, Santa Claus---to help them make money, but then in every last way distance themselves from the core of what Christmas is actually about. Either physically and truly include the other traditions, or call Christmas what it is. But don't lie about what you're doing. Don't pretend to be what you're not. Don't take out the heart of something, and then ask us to enjoy just the outer shell of that thing.
The bottom line is that, like it or not, Christmas is a Christian holiday. It's actually about the birth of Christ. That's why it's called Christmas, and not Holidaymas, or Cheermas, or Wishmas. That's not a Hanukkah tree they put up every year at Disneyland---or that we see in every store, or that gets painted on every window. It's a Christmas tree. Always has been. Always will be.
You can have him endorsing everything from a garden hose to pantyhose, and Santa Claus will still be Saint Nicholas. Still a saint. Still Christian.
I'm good for "Happy Holidays" meaning everyone's holidays. But it's You Know What to co-opt all the traditional Christmas symbols and markers, and at the same time refuse to acknowledge the reality of what they symbolize and mark. If Starbucks wants to pretend that Christmas is about nothing more substantial than wishes and hope, fine. But no fair hanging those words on Christmas ornaments, and then trying to pretend that it's not really Christmas. That's the sort of thing only bad little boys and girls do.
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