Well, it's that time of year again.

I refer, of course, to the perpetual hullabaloo that has been raging for a number of years now over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” 

To the best of my memory (which I’ll be the first to admit is quite often questionable at best), the brouhaha began when some well-meaning Christians started voicing their displeasure over the use of “Happy Holidays” by retailers during the gift-buying season. 

Their argument, as I understand it, was that the offending retailers were attempting to “take Christ out of Christmas,” and in doing so were overly commercializing and secularizing the holiday. My initial response at the time was this commercial secularization had in fact already taken place long before – it was the genesis of good ol’ Charlie Brown’s frustrations when A Charlie Brown Christmas originally aired way back in 1965, after all – and had become so deeply ingrained in American culture by decades of “Black Friday” sales and violent clashes over the last Tickle Me Elmo doll that the entire debate was already something of a moot point.

Moot or not, the debate has continued to rage since then. Time was, you didn’t start hearing the latest round of skirmishes until sometime just after Thanksgiving. But nowadays some folks seem to enjoy getting a head start on the seasonal donnybrook and avoid the Christmas rush.

A few years back, an old high school friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an online discussion on the subject. As usual the vast majority of those taking part voiced their intent to boycott any retailer who uses the phrase “Happy Holidays” in their store displays or advertising. 

Which was perfectly within their rights, though I worried it might severely reduce the number of shopping options available to these advocates for a non-commercial holiday when they headed out for those early bird sales the morning after Thanksgiving.

There were a few attempts by others to point out – as I myself have done many times over the years – that “Happy Holidays” in fact originated as a greeting meant to encompass not only Christmas but also New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and the eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. 

I joined in on that side of the discussion, hoping to make some of the folks taking part come to the understanding that perhaps their vitriol might be a tad misplaced.

You’d think that, after all these years of writing a newspaper column in which I occasionally share opinions that don’t sit well with some folks and generate a fair amount of hate mail, I might know better. 

Old habits die hard, I guess...

“Given that there are more than just the one holiday being celebrated during this season,” I wrote at the time, “it seems right and proper to me that I should be able to use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ to include everyone I wish to bestow greetings upon, and also use ‘Merry Christmas’ when celebrating that particular holiday with friends and family as I have done every December since 1963.”

I went on to point out that the general public didn’t seem to take offense back in 1942 when Bing Crosby first crooned the Irving Berlin tune “Happy Holidays” in the film Holiday Inn. (It bears noting, in fact, that while the tune is generally considered to be a Christmas song, in that movie it is being performed on New Year’s Eve as an expression to enjoy happy holidays throughout the entire year.)

I concluded by stating that I personally use both terms – “Happy Holidays” AND “Merry Christmas” – as a friendly acknowledgment that we Christians are not the only ones celebrating at that time of year. 

“I say ‘Merry Christmas’ when I specifically mean Christmas,” I wrote. “But I say ‘Happy Holidays’ as a general greeting for the season as a whole. It doesn’t mean I’m taking Christ out of Christmas. It simply means what it says – have happy holidays, whichever ones you may happen to celebrate. And besides, it takes a whole lot less time and oxygen than saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year’ all at once in rapid succession. 

“As far as I’m concerned, this whole ‘Happy Holidays’ controversy is just a lot of stuff and nonsense meant to divide people. I'm not much into that, especially during the holidays. But, hey, that’s just me.”

The only response I got was from one of the more particularly vocal opponents to the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays,” who proceeded to inform me that I was doomed to burn for all eternity for what he called my “un-Christian stance” on the issue.

I responded, “Gee, I thought Christianity was about love and understanding, and Christmas a season for Peace on Earth, Good Will to All Men.” 

Then I wished him a Merry Christmas and decided to visit the Star Wars website for a while instead...

I've said it before and I will say it again; As far as I'm concerned, this "War on Christmas" is what I like to call a "non-controversy," nothing more than an attempt to stir up an argument just for the sake of arguing. Like we need any more of that in today's world...

When I was growing up, what we have come to call the “Holiday Season” typically kicked off with Thanksgiving, so this is being acknowledged with "Happy Holidays." In December I have Jewish friends who celebrate Hanukkah, African-American friends who celebrate Kwanzaa, Muslim friends who celebrate Eid Mubarak, and even one long-time acquaintance from my Air Force days who happens to be a follower of the Shinto religion and celebrates Tohji-Taisai. 

The whole kit-and-kaboodle of us celebrate New Year's - and on top of all that my Aunt Jodi’s birthday is in December, and for my family at least that's one more holiday to be celebrated during this time of year. 

I believe in inclusion, not exclusion. So for me, "Happy Holidays" is a way of acknowledging ALL of these holidays and what they represent for the people who celebrate them, a recognition of their customs and traditions expressed in the same spirit as when they wish it to me. 

To me this does not in any way, shape or form constitute a "War on Christmas," as some folks (well-meaning or not) would have us believe, but rather a heartfelt expression of universal love and brotherhood toward my fellow man. 

You know, like Jesus wanted...

I believe Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said it best when he made the following observation: “For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.”

I realize this point of view does not sit well with some folks. But that doesn’t make it any less valid. 

And it occurs to me that it is at precisely this time of year when some of us probably need to hear it the most.

So let me take this opportunity to wish everyone here at home and around the world a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Eid Mubarak, Tohji-Taisai, Jai Ganapati, Spectacular Solstice, Happy New Year... and Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward All.

(Copyright © 2021 by John A. Small)