merry christmas

Yes, It Is Okay To Say ‘Merry Christmas,’ So Enjoy!

Merry Christmas has become somewhat of a contentious phrase in the last few decades. As retailers and government agencies strive for more inclusive environments, Merry Christmas, with its clear Christian connection, has fallen out of favor.

As an atheist, I find this whole idea of Merry Christmas being wiped clean from parts of our society absurd. Regardless of anything, Christmas is still Christmas. It is a major holiday in Western countries. Yes, it has clear connections to Christianity, being centered on the idea that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But in many ways, it has also become a secular holiday. Christmas is the name of the specific holiday. I don’t see any reason to change that.

merry christmas
You know who doesn’t care if you say ‘Merry Christmas’? This cat in a hat. [Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]

Jo Holness, in an opinion piece for CBC News, does a pretty darn good job of outlining the frustration some people have with Merry Christmas falling out of fashion.

“Christmas has become a four-letter word. How is it that the most celebrated day on the Christian calendar has become the Holiday That Dare Not Speak Its Name? Nowadays, ‘Happy Holidays’ is the standard, with a ‘Season’s Greetings’ thrown in occasionally for variety. (Sidebar: When you say ‘Season’s Greetings,’ to which season are you referring? Moose hunting season? Basketball season? Bird watching season?)”

By trying to, in some spheres, eliminate the phrase Merry Christmas, we are, in many ways, erasing history. The history of Christmas is quite complex, existing in one form or another prior to Christianity, but our modern understanding of it is clearly based on the story of the birth of Christ, whether it is a true story or not. Even if the story is not factually correct, it does not matter. It is still the story that Christmas as we know it revolves around.

Why are we running away from it? It is what it is. I fail to see why anyone should feel that they need to shy away from saying Merry Christmas at Christmas time. There are those who would prefer Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings for whatever reason they choose, and that is fine. It’s up to them. It is not inaccurate. It is the holidays after all. And, it is a season.

In schools, the use of Merry Christmas has been curtailed. The reasoning behind it is sound enough. In our multicultural, diverse modern Western societies, particularly in North America, which is built on immigration, pushing for inclusiveness is admirable on one level. But it’s also denying the history and deeply held traditions of our Western societies that just happen to be anchored in Christianity. But, as much as it is a religious tradition, it is also a historical tradition. And it really doesn’t need to be seen as a form of proselytizing, indoctrination, or an effort to alienate any other group. Christmas really can be for everyone.

Sometimes, the well-meaning people in our society who aim for inclusiveness end up missing the mark. They feel that they don’t want others to feel left out or offended. But the people they believe they are speaking for tend to not really be concerned about the use of Merry Christmas.

For example, especially in the last few decades, curbing of the use of Merry Christmas has created some backlash towards Muslims, believing that this quest for creating inclusive environments is linked to rising numbers of Muslims in Western societies. The thing is, it seems that most Muslims don’t really care if people use the phrase Merry Christmas. They are more than happy to wish others in their communities a Merry Christmas. They are not offended by the use of the term. In fact, in Islam, Jesus is a prophet held in great esteem, although it is not believed that he is the son of god.

In response to letter to the editor in the Toronto Star, a Muslim man from Mississauga named Rafat Khan summed it up well with his short statement.

“I’m a Canadian Muslim and I love Christmas time. It’s a Canadian Christian tradition. On top of that, we get holidays. Merry Christmas to all of my Christian fellows.”

In a Huffington Post article, Sumbul Ali-Karamali argues that the pluralism we aim for by curtailing Merry Christmas should come not from suppressing the holiday celebrations or traditional rhetoric of any one group, but by recognizing the holidays and rituals of all in our societies, and she expresses her own personal enjoyment of Christmas as a Muslim. As opposed to getting rid of Merry Christmas, she advocates for opening doors and hearts to those outside of one’s faith to be part of the celebrations.

“So whatever you celebrate, consider inviting someone outside your religious (or non-religious) community to come celebrate with you. Goodwill to mankind is at the base of all holidays. In the meantime, whatever your background, I wish you an unapologetic and unabashed Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Atheists are often blamed for being part of the problem as well. And yes, admittedly, there are those who, in the quest to separate Church and State, look at the idea of Merry Christmas as a threat to this idea. But, for the most part, atheists also don’t care if people say Merry Christmas, and most celebrate the holiday as Christmas and will often say Merry Christmas themselves. And if they say Happy Holidays, so be it. There is nothing wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong with saying Merry Christmas.

Dawn Cutaia wrote a lovely opinion piece in the York Daily Record showing how she approaches Christmas as an atheist, and it most definitely involves the term Christmas.

“It’s that time of year again. The time when us heathen atheists wage our war on Christmas. I look forward all year to executing my plan to destroy Christmas, starting the day after Thanksgiving. My plan includes hanging a Christmas wreath on my front door, decorating my Christmas tree, sending out Christmas cards and listening exclusively to Christmas music.”

The bottom line: One doesn’t have to keep Christ in their personal version of Christmas, but there is no good reason to keep Merry Christmas out of Christmas altogether.

[Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]