It’s that time of year when some of my “Friends” on Facebook have posted, “Nobody’s going to make me say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,” and “Where’s our President when Christmas is erased from our schools’ calendar because of Muslims?” (attributed to Chuck Norris).
In fact, no one’s keeping me from saying Merry Christmas. I can send Christmas cards. I can light up the nativity scene on my lawn. I can say Merry Christmas to everyone I greet. If, however, I am a keeper of the public trust in our religiously diverse nation—i.e., a mayor, a public school teacher, a county, state, or country employee—I may not use public funds or public space to promote my religious beliefs.
Orlando of the 1950s had a large Jewish population. How did Jewish children feel singing “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night” in our annual Christmas concerts? For the sixth-grade Christmas gift exchange a Jewish boy drew my name.
In our high school a sound system broadcast daily devotions into each classroom. Scripture and an inspirational thought for the day were read. We concluded by reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” and pledging allegiance to the flag. I sometimes wonder how my Jewish classmates felt about that part of each morning.
People complain they can’t use language that is “politically correct”: not say the “n-word,” not say “retard” or “fag,” not use “man” when they mean woman too. While “Christmas” has not been added to the list, we’re in the process of learning there are times and places where the sensitive person does not say it.
Why? Because words, symbols too, have the power to hurt and exclude. It doesn’t matter what the speaker intended.
A manger scene in a town square, the words Merry Christmas on a public building, a card sent by a public official (at the tax payer’s expense) wishing the constituency a Merry Christmas—what effect do these have on those who practice a different faith, whose beliefs are as important to them as mine are to me?
Stamped on our coins is “E pluribus unum,” meaning “of many one.” This doesn’t mean that to become one all newcomers must adopt the religious practices of our western European forebears. I believe it means that all people of good will who come to these shores, no matter their faith, are invited to be one with the rest of us.
So, to my Christian friends: Merry Christmas. To my non-Christian friends: Happy Holidays.