Few gestures can be as delightful as a hearty “Merry Christmas” this time of year. Yet the phrase has become embroiled in a “culture war,” the most recent salvo of which came from the pro-Christmas American Family Association, which sought to get its members to turn against retailer Costco, after Costco started favoring “holiday” over “Christmas.”
The term “holiday” is somewhat mystifying. Many retailers and other businesses now talk about “holiday sales,” “holiday cards,” and “shipping guaranteed to arrive for the holiday.” While the term is chosen to avoid offending non-Christians, one has to wonder precisely who does not know that “holiday” is nearly directly synonymous for “Christmas”? Sure, holiday sales could also include sales for Hanukkah, but for some odd coincidence, holiday shipping guarantees always snub the Jewish festival of lights for December 24. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think that date might just coincide with something called Christmas Eve (a.k.a. the last day for stuff to arrive if it is going to come before Christmas).
“Holiday.” It has essentially become a politically correct euphemism for what is seen as an unneeded remaining bit of religious terminology floating through the mainstream of society. It is absurd, to the extent that it is used merely because Christmas is thought to be a dirty word. More than anything, it reveals ignorance. For example, for a few years after Ramadan fell during December awhile back, I saw the triplicate wish “Happy Christmas, Hanukkah and Ramadan,” clearly betraying the fact that those folks didn’t know that Ramadan moves around the calendar each year. Oops.
So the AFA was the righteous crusader, right? The AFA had a point – using “holiday” is silly. Why should people be offended by the word Christmas? Most folks I know use it, regardless of whether they consider themselves Christians or not. Big deal. Ignoring for the moment that Costco did refer to Christmas trees as just that – not the less euphonic “Holiday tree” name that graces so many municipal evergreen displays – why not frown on those who cede to the pressures of a growingly secular society?
The big question, or what ought to be the big question, is “who was it hurting?” It was “hurting” Christians, if you really want to say that a company helping to disassociate the overly materialist elements of the, uh, holiday was really a hurtful act. But, if it was indeed hurting those of us who call ourselves Christians, what happened to turning the other cheek and focusing on loving people – even our enemies?
Somehow I doubt that when supporters of the AFA did as they were encouraged to do and wrote Costco that all of them did so in a loving, perfectly Christ-like way saying, “As a long time customer, I’d love to see you refer to Christmas as Christmas, would you mind doing that? If you are referring to Christmas as ‘the holiday’ to avoid offending your customers, you should know it isn’t offending me – thanks for worrying, though.” Yeah, right.
I’ve seen those who, like myself, prefer “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holiday” take this problem on in an often too serious of manner. “Merry Christmas – and if you don’t like it, well, Merry Christmas anyway, you jerk.” What was it about “peace on earth and good will to men”?
And while my peace loving compatriots went after the evil “holiday” people, I pondered Costco for a moment. Costco is well known for its reputation as a caring employer – it is kind to its employees, offering them good benefits and pay. Conversely, several of the “good” companies on the AFA’s list, those that used the word “Christmas,” are known as bad employers who offer poor benefits and low pay.
What did the customer service agent who handled the angry Christmas callers think when she realized that, in the name of the day God bestowed his Son to the people of the world, people were being told to complain and then go shop at someplace where – if she worked there – she would struggle quite a bit harder to make ends meet? She likely wondered if those people calling in angry cared about her half as much as they cared about a name.
Costco, by the way, ceded to the demand and is now referring to Christmas as Christmas. I am happy they are using the term. Costco clearly desired to send the right message to its customers. Being true to your message is important, and that brings us to the big question of the matter. What message were the Christians true to?
Timothy R. Butler is editor-in-chief of Open for Business.