Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 13, 2005

It’s a free country: I’ll use ‘generic’ holiday greetings if I choose

I’m bone tired of the growing chorus of whines about how others celebrate Christmas. Bonnie Evans’ recent column on this topic was the last straw: I can stay my fingers from the keyboard no longer.

Evans asked what greeting her readers use when bumping into friends, family, or strangers.

I use “Happy Holidays” with friends who aren’t Christians and with people whose religious observances I don’t know. I use “Merry Christmas” if I know they observe the holiday.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to get your knickers in a knot because someone wishes you happy holidays, but Evans and others are offended by “generic” holiday greetings.

Evans also asked if it matters to her readers what retailers say after December purchases.

I’m happy to get a thank you, which is becoming quite rare in these days of ever-souring customer service. I certainly don’t expect retailers to offer a “Merry Christmas” to customers who might be Christians or might be non-religious or members of non-Christian faiths, especially when “Happy Holidays” is a perfectly appropriate greeting.

For years, folks on the religious right griped that Christmas celebrations were too commercialized. Now, inexplicably, those who insist that everyone utter “Merry Christmas” regardless of the personal beliefs of the speaker or recipient are, in essence, complaining that it’s not commercial enough.

They can’t have it both ways.

After citing a bunch of statistics about the popularity of Christmas celebrations, Evans asked, “… what happened to ‘majority rules’ in our democratic nation?”

Clearly, Evans needs a civics refresher course. “Majority rules” applies to elections, not to religion, culture or traditions. We don’t all have to celebrate Christmas just because most Americans do. Those who celebrate Christmas aren’t required to do so in a way that earns a stamp of approval from the religous right or anyone else.

That’s what’s meant by “freedom.”

That’s why the intrepid Pilgrims came to these shores: to escape the religious tyranny of the majority in their homelands.

It’s frighteningly ironic that Evans, and many others of her ilk, are now trying to use the tyranny of the majority to force their religious views on all of us.

Evans asserted that “America is a Christian nation,” an oft-repeated myth. The United States of America is a secular nation – just check the Consitution:

• “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” ~ Article VI, Section III

• “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” ~ Bill of Rights, First Amendment

I don’t understand why some religious folks can’t seem to grasp that the all-important separation of church and state protects the most religious people in our country.

Despite the claims made by many on the religious right, there is no “war on Christmas.” These claims are long on fundraising potential but woefully short on facts. In fact, if there’s any war, it’s a shortsighted war by many on the religious right against our critical separation between government and religion.

This is America. It’s no one’s business but my own how religious or secular my spoken greetings, holiday cards, postage stamps, decorations, traditions and thoughts are. Yet the far-right Christian culture police clearly want to dictate these things. How utterly un-American, and quite frankly, un-Christian.

I’m reminded of a T-shirt that said, “If you don’t like separation of church and state, move to Iran.”

I’m also reminded of the once-popular bracelets reading “WWJD,” an acronym for What Would Jesus Do. I doubt he’d care if or how his birthday is celebrated. I don’t think he’d waste any time or energy fretting if a merchant wished him “Happy Holidays” after a purchase. I suspect he would show tolerance and respect for his neighbors while helping the poor, sick and oppressed.

Especially in the Bay Area, with its diverse population representing a wide range of cultures, traditions and religions, it’s appropriate to recognize that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that many of those who do are honoring the spirit of giving and sharing rather than commemorating a literal interpretation of a biblical story. That’s their right in a free country, and respecting and encouraging that freedom is, I believe, what Jesus would do.

If members of the far-right Christian culture police and “war on Christmas” whiners still aren’t swayed, consider this: What does the chronic need to have one’s religion reinforced at every turn say about the strength of that faith?

May everyone, whether a member of any faith or no faith, have a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful and healthy year.

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