Many people have been discussing holiday greetings this year. What is the “politically correct” thing to do, if you’re a Christian, but speaking to someone who isn’t?
There seems to be a push to remove Christmas from the “marketplace”, to take it out of the public arena. Some of the push is in the guise of not offending people who are not Christians. And some of it is just hostility toward Christianity. There is also the complaint about the commercialization of Christmas - although it seems to be prevalent most among those who have no religious attachment to the holiday, an odd sort of thing to me.
Anyway, some of these questions amuse me a bit, mainly because I’ve already dealt with them for myself.
I have a long list of people I send Christmas cards to. And a fair number of them are non-Christians. When I used to buy commercially made cards, I would buy some non-religious holiday cards to send to those folks. Because the impulse to want to avoid offending my friends’ sensibilities is strong. But eventually my list got so long that it was no longer feasible for me to buy cards. A couple of years, I made my own, doing block prints. But even that didn’t work as the list kept getting longer - it took too long to make all the cards. So I started doing my own designs, buying card stock and taking them to the printer. But the thing about doing my own cards that was really crucial was making a choice on just what those cards would be like. Should I go with a generic holiday greeting, or be unapologetic about what the holiday was for me?
I chose the second option. When it came down to it, I reasoned that all my friends know I’m a Christian, even my non-Christian friends. So, if I send them a card that celebrates a holiday that is important to me, what can offend them in that? I’m not trying to convert them. I’m just telling them what I’m celebrating. So, I stopped feeling guilty about sending explicitly Christian cards to non-believers. And stopped worrying about whether they’d be offended.
Now, I also go to the trouble of addressing all my cards by hand. And I’ve discovered something as a result of this practice. Between the uniqueness of my cards and the hand addressing, I seem to be sending out a lot of goodwill. It’s a wonderfully exhilarating feeling to have someone come up to me and thank me for the card. Their eyes are bright, they’re smiling, and they seem quite touched by the fact that I sent them a card.
Now, please understand, I don’t send the cards out in order to get back that reaction. Because it’s not about trying to get a reaction out of other people. I send out cards to friends, people I work with, people that have meant something to me along the way. I like the concept of, at least once a year, letting people know they’ve been thought of. And for some of my friends from way back, it is, alas, the one time of the year that I actually do get around to making contact with them. Sometimes I lose track of people because they’ve moved from the address I had for them, and I don’t know where their new address is. I don’t drop many people from the list because of lost contact. That’s why the list keeps growing, of course.
But this year, even a bit more so than in the past, I’ve gotten more of those enthusiastic “thank yous” than I expected. I’m not sure why. But in the world of group email sendings, mailing labels, and mass produced cards, something unique seems to have a powerful effect. And I like to think that perhaps all those cards also carried a spiritual charge with them - that the love and affection, respect and care that I felt for the people on my list was somehow conveyed to them when they opened the envelope. It’s one real occasion where I can say that I am only trying to reflect the love God has for each of us.
So, this year I discovered that people, even non-believers, didn’t mind my saying “Merry Christmas”, because they seem to have understood that I really wanted them to have a good, special holiday. That it mattered to me.
When I look from this experience to the broader picture of how Christmas is being celebrated, I’m no longer so bothered by these public questions. Generally, I say “Merry Christmas” to people, because it is my holiday, what I am celebrating. And it’s a holiday about peace and goodwill to other people. I may throw out a “Happy Holidays” to non-believers or people I don’t know. But I don’t feel particularly anxious about how they’ll receive it.
The fight about taking Christmas out of the public arena means less to me, as it focuses more and more on the fact that it is indeed a religious celebration. Why should I complain about pointing out that the celebration is supposed to be about the coming of God into the world? It’s not about all the lovely, pretty cultural clutter of practices we have brought to the holiday. And commercialization? Well, I would certainly rather focus on the giving of goodwill and love to people than the getting of material objects (even though I’m human enough to enjoy the presents I do receive).
This Christmas season has been a special one for me. Not because of big events, or special gifts I’ve received, but because of this thing I’ve learned - or re-learned. There is great joy in discovering you have touched another in a very simple way, by wishing them a Merry Christmas. And I’m finding I want to hold onto this feeling. Charles Dickens ends his Christmas story with saying that Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas all year long. And I think I want to try that. That desire is changing my outlook on many things, how I act toward people, how I act toward my work, how I act toward myself. I’m not waiting for New Year’s and the annual resolution list. Christmas goodwill is a much better feeling. New Year’s resolutions have that stiff, disciplinary feeling to them that ends up making them hard to stick to. But approaching the world with Christmas goodwill – that sounds like much more fun. And I want to see what happens if I do try it.