Celebrating Christmas

While enjoying a lovely free breakfast in the lobby of a Hampton Inn this week, I glanced up from my iPhone to notice FOX and Friends was on the lobby flat screen. The hosts were giggling like school children above the caption “No More War on Christmas” which had a subtitle ‘Retailers to bring back Merry Christmas.’ This development had generated real excitement for the hosts, who were visibly delighted to see Happy Holidays lose the war of words.

I think retailers are making a real mistake here, limiting their cheery greeting to Christmas when they could capture all of the end-of-year holidays with one catchy phrase. I mean Christmas isn’t a season–it’s only one day. You can’t really start wishing people a Merry Christmas on December 5th can you? It would seem to me to be poor form; a breach of etiquette even. It comes off sounding a bit desperate, as if you’re trying to remind would be shoppers that you really need them to buy things.

Christmas isn’t the only American holiday built to celebrate or commemorate a birthday, but it certainly has a higher expectation of joviality and participation than Columbus Day or Martin Luther King, Jr Day. I’ve never been greeted at my local Wal-Mart with a snappy “Happy President’s Day” that’s for certain. If Jesus Christ had actually been born on December 25th, I could see recognizing it and even giving him a day. After all, even if he isn’t God, he was an influential guy. But he wasn’t born on December 25th, in fact if the Biblical account is true (and that’s always up for grabs) he wasn’t even born in the winter. The shepherds were tending their sheep at night, which only happens in the Spring. December 25th was chosen during the time of the Roman Empire, when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and chose that day to coincide with the celebration of the Winter Solstice and the birthday of the god Mithras.

If you’re not a Christian, or don’t have children who still believe in Santa Claus, it’s quite difficult to get worked up to a celebratory lather over the Winter Solstice. Not to mention New Year’s Eve is rapidly approaching and that will require some mustering of cheeriness, which seems a lot to ask so soon after all that merry-making just the week before. As an atheist with teenage children, Christmas has less meaning for me this year than at any other time in my life. My wife is what you might call a weak atheist/strong agnostic/pantheist who would more likely than not actually enjoy a nice pagan Solstice feast.

So I’m weighing my options for responding to perky retailers, or anyone else really, who springs a Merry Christmas on me mid-December. I can certainly go with “Why thank you, and I hope you’ll enjoy your Winter’s Solstice.” There’s always “Happy Festivus,” but then you’re dependent on the recognition of the Seinfeld reference. Now if I get hit with a Merry Christmas on the actual day, I have no problem responding in kind. But I’m sorry Christmas fans, a man is only born on one day. You can’t stretch the party out over a whole month.

Happy Holidays.

Related Post: The Pagan Traditions of Christmas

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