“If one more person says ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, I just might slap them. Either tell me ‘Merry Christmas’ or just don’t say anything.” So went a festive holiday message Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller made on Facebook a couple of years ago.
Non-Christians can stop reading here, as this message is not aimed at you. Instead, I would like my Christian brothers and sisters to consider how trivial this complaint is. We live in a nation founded in large part on principles of religious freedom — by people who braved dangerous journeys in search of freedom from government imposition of specific religious beliefs.
We enjoy absolute freedom to practice Christianity in this country. I can go to church as often or as infrequently as I choose. I can write this piece for my hometown newspaper without fear of retribution.
Unlike Christians in China, I can join a gathering in someone’s home and call it “Bible study” instead of disguising it as something else. I enjoy the choice of attending church at any number of my denomination’s churches within a mere 10 miles of my home. Unlike Muslims in Myanmar, I am not being driven from my home and murdered because of my faith. And, unlike friends who are Baha’i, I do not live in fear of persecution and imprisonment in the Middle East.
We American Christians are unbelievably spoiled and arrogant when we use words such as “attack” or “persecution” simply because someone objects to government-sponsored religious celebrations or using public funds to pay for them — or, like Mr. Miller, when the absence of a “Merry Christmas” from a store clerk translates as an attack.
To begin with, Miller should’ve cut that clerk a break. He had probably been on his feet for eight straight hours, listening to jolly shoppers complaining because the store was out of a particular sale item or the checkout line was too long.
As a Christian who loves Christmas, I do agree with my more conservative Christian friends that there is a threat to Christmas. Unlike Miller, I do not see the “attack” as coming from non-Christians or from the government; instead, I see the gross commercialization of Christmas as being the real threat to its joy and meaning.
The things that take meaning out of Christmas for me are:
• Commercials touting luxury cars with big bows on them.
• Streaming radio services devoting two channels solely to Christmas music, starting Nov. 1. (If I hear “Santa Baby” one more time, and with apologies to Miller, I, too, may want to slap someone.)
• Black Friday starting on Thanksgiving afternoon (on a day when I give thanks that I don’t work in retail).
• People who practically come to blows at the mall over someone “stealing” their parking places.
• People — particularly elected officials — who claim there is an attack on Christmas.
If you truly are in search of Christmas, journey through Advent, so that you actually understand the joy of Christmas once it arrives. Any Christian church in our area would welcome you to its Advent and Christmas celebrations. A beautiful Christmas is alive and well in those places. As Christians, we are entrusted with the gift of sharing the light and joy of Christmas, not to turn people away from it. Miller’s words made me unbearably sad — and I have thought about them again and again for almost two years.
Mr. Miller, the next time you feel like slapping someone during the holidays, please watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — the original with Boris Karloff, not the Jim Carrey movie — and, taking the words of Dr. Seuss to heart, remember that “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.” Or, better yet, read the Gospel of Luke and reflect upon the good news it brings.
Young is a retired paralegal in Austin.