(Artwork by Michael Cho)

Well, we’re still a couple of weeks away from Halloween but apparently some folks are already busy gearing up for the next round in the ongoing battle over how Christmas season greetings should be expressed.

In recent years there’s been a perpetual hullabaloo over use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” To the best of my memory (which I’ll be the first to admit is sometimes questionable at best), the brouhaha began when some well-meaning Christians starting 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. Usually you don’t start hearing about the latest round of skirmishes until some time just after Thanksgiving, but this year some folks have apparently decided to get a head start on the seasonal donnybrook.

The other day 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 is perfectly within their rights, though it seems it will severely reduce the number of shopping options available to these advocates for a non-commercial holiday when they head 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 in the past – that “Happy Holidays” originated as a greeting meant to encompass not only Christmas but also New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and the eight-day Jewish celebration of Hannukah. 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, “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 said. “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, which ever one you may celebrate. And besides, it takes a whole lot less time and oxygen than saying ‘Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year’ all at once in rapid succession like an auctioneer. 

“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...

(Copyright © 2012 by John A. Small)