This year, I am angrier than usual about the weaponization of “Merry Christmas”. It seems so selfish and insular, not to mention completely outside the spirit, to either spit “Merry Christmas” from the mouth like acid or to say it with a wink and a secret gesture, as if you’re a persecuted minority rather than a former hegemonic force that has curled inward on itself.
For those in both camps, I know it is hard to imagine any status other than domination or persecution. But the spirit of Jesus’s teaching was to bring a new order, not shaped or threatened by the realpolitik of the age, but powered entirely by love. Interfaith relationship shouldn’t be hard for Christians. The call to keep telling the story is not a call to subjugate others at the foot of the cross, but a call to invite, welcome, and receive any who would come of their own accord, complete with all cultural folkways and ways of being that do not directly contradict. Moreover, the call, even above the sharing of the story, is to love our neighbor, without restriction or limits.
The Christmas we celebrate is syncretic, with trees from Celtic and Northern European traditions, gift exchange from the Romans and older traditions, feasting from time immemorial. The date itself aligns with the Winter Solstice, not actual records of Jesus’s birthday. (Everyone knows Jesus was a Leo.) We shouldn’t put on too many airs about our Christian purity and piety in our celebration of the season as we do.
If you know your neighbor is Christian, sure, say Merry Christmas, just don’t get all Cyclops in Watchmen about it. If not, just say Happy Holidays. Or say both. If someone says Happy Hanukkah to me, I am pleased to receive a kind word, not trying to figure out what that means for Jewish-Christian relations.
If you want to honor that baby born to a marginalized family at the edge of a powerful kingdom, love your neighbor well by meeting them where they are.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays.