The Bleak Midwinter and the Joy of Holidays

I’ve had a couple of interesting interactions lately about my use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” when I’m not certain about the religious training of the person to whom I am addressing the greeting.

Most people are happy to reciprocate with a “Happy Holidays” of their own.

But there have been a couple who seem to get angry that I’m not using their traditional holiday greeting. One even went so far as to add the reasoning that this holiday season wouldn’t exist without their particular religion.

I want to be clear about this: I am a Christian, and the fundamental tenet of Christ’s teachings remains rooted in love for all people, period. We don’t get to pick and choose whom we share the love with, because we are all deserving of it. One of the bones I have to pick with many evangelical leaders is that their teachings often lead to hate and anger, which directly conflicts with Christ’s word on the subject. And that hypocrisy irritates me to no end.

That said, Christians are actually pretty late to the midwinter celebration parties.

Celebrating light in a season of darkness has a long history. Many pagans in the northern hemisphere celebrated on the Solstice, which marked the shortest day of the year, and the need for light in the darkness was highlighted.

Hanukkah celebrates a Festival of Lights in remembrance of the Maccabean Revolt that took place more than a hundred years before the birth of Christ.

In some years, Ramadan also falls in midwinter, aligning the Islamic tradition of fasting, prayer, and charity in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar with other religious celebrations.

Kwanzaa, celebrated at midwinter, is another latecomer, arising out of the need to connect peoples of the African diaspora in their scattered locations, but it focuses on unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

All of these celebrations, at their heart, look to battle back the dark, to celebrate the light, and to renew faith, in whatever form that takes for the celebrant.

Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, even though historical documentation suggests Christ was actually born in the spring. As an educated Christian, I’m fine with the tradition of celebrating His birth at midwinter, not only because it’s tradition, but because the celebration of His birth does all of these same things.

The celebrations renew our strength in the battle against the dark, and our faith in Christ’s love.

Extending the courtesy of “Merry Christmas” to anyone, of any faith, simply reflects good wishes for the person addressed. “Happy Holidays” does the same thing, with a respect for the beliefs of the person addressed also implied. Either or both are acceptable, because they are meant in good cheer.

Battle back the bleak midwinter, and take no offense from those who would wish you well in the effort.

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