Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, and the older I get the more this increases. It’s a time when it just seems a little easier to focus on happy thoughts, family, loving our fellow human beings, and, for those of us who are Christians, the Savior.
But in recent years I found a sad and disturbing distraction from the joy of the season to be increasingly prevalent. It’s the phenomenon I call “The war on kindness”.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel that it is important for me and my family, as well as others who share our beliefs, to keep the Savior in our minds and hearts during this season, rather than forgetting Him among the more commercial festivities. For those of us who follow Him, this is really a priority year round, but we do feel a special compulsion when celebrating His birth. But as happens far too frequently, I believe a righteous concept has been distorted by many to become something that drives a wedge between people of differing beliefs and cultural backgrounds. We seem to see any recognition of other beliefs (or non-beliefs) at this time to be an attack on ours. Two years ago a stranger became very angry with me because I warmly wished him “Happy Holidays”. With a glare that could have melted ice he shot back “It’s Merry Christmas”. Please take a moment to contemplate the contradiction of reacting to kindness with anger and calling it “Keeping Christ in Christmas”. Our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has counseled us that giving in to anger is contrary to welcoming the spirit into our hearts.
Of course this can be true in the opposite circumstances. A person can take offense at a greeting of “Merry Christmas” when no offense is intended. But if we’re going to follow the Savior, we should be more mindful of our own behavior than theirs. I have never once seen a person wishing “Happy Holidays” with the intention of giving offense. I have seen them do it to express love and respect to the people who are Christian, Jewish, atheist, or whatever. I personally prefer to use the term ‘Happy Holidays” when addressing strangers or groups of people whose faith either differs from mine or is unknown to me. But that is my personal choice. I’m not saying we can’t say “Merry Christmas”. Certainly I am always very happy to say it to those who I know celebrate Christmas. And if you want to stick to that as your standard greeting, my intention is not to change your mind. My intention is to make the point that using “Merry Christmas” as an expression of pride or contention does not keep Christ in Christmas. How can we honor Christ by driving away the spirit?
We should never be embarrassed by our faith, and should always be willing to stand up for what we believe. But I submit that there is a big difference between that and intentionally disrespecting or marginalizing the beliefs of others. Do we have to obsess over every single word we say and never express our beliefs publicly? Of course not, and I value Christmas traditions as a sincere expression of belief. I simply don’t see businesses choosing to say “Happy Holidays” or other things of that nature as belittling us, merely including others. Isn’t Christmas a holiday? So is Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, etc. I could make the point that other cultures and beliefs were celebrating a winter holiday at this time of year before the Savior was even born, and that Christians chose to celebrate the birth (which we do not believe took place in December) at the same time other celebrations were taking place. But I doubt many will be impressed by those widely accepted historical facts. But I hope that readers will consider that we can far more effectively keep our focus on the Savior during the holiday by acting as He would, by giving of ourselves, loving our fellow children of God, than by picking fights over holiday greetings (or taking the bait if someone else tries to start a fight with us). For me, the most connected with the Savior I ever felt on Christmas was the year my Mom had the idea that we would go to the family homeless shelter on Christmas morning to deliver toys. I dressed as Santa Claus, and when I walked through the room calling “Ho Ho Ho” and handing out toys, the children’s faces lit up. But what I really remember is the father who smiled at his son and said ‘Didn’t I tell you Santa Claus would come?”, then looked to me with tearful gratitude.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. To those who share my beliefs, Merry Christmas. To those of the Jewish faith, Happy Hannukah. And to everyone, I wish you joy and happiness in whatever your celebration you may observe. Or, to put it another way, Happy Holidays.