It’s the most wonderful time of year, when we all should be happy and filled with holiday cheer, yet it never fails that we end up focusing on two simple words that people take too far, or take far too much offense to, “Happy Holidays”.

First of all, I want to be very clear, I am not someone who believes we shouldn’t say “Merry Christmas” or should tell others that they shouldn’t say it either.  I celebrate a non-religious Christmas and have absolutely no issue when someone tells me to have a Merry Christmas.  However, I do have an issue when people take absolute offense when I tell them to have a Happy Holidays.  “It’s ‘Merry Christmas’!” is one of the strangest responses I’ve ever heard in my life because all I can think is that I just wished this person a happy and prosperous time, yet they just bit my head off because I didn’t use the right words in their opinion.  In a season where many say it’s the thought behind the gift that matters, people get irate over the gift (wishing someone a Happy Holidays) without looking at the thought and intent behind it.

So why do I say “Happy Holidays” even though I celebrate Christmas?  Apart from radio, I’ve spent a mass majority of my working life in some form of Customer Service and retail.  And being in such regular contact with the public I was quick to realize that unless they are wearing a religious symbol around their neck, there’s no sure-fire way to look at someone and know what they celebrate during the winter season.  Yes, our nation is a majority that falls under the general “Christian” term, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to run into people who are of other beliefs.

Just by looking at a person you really can’t know with certainty if they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, or they were born into a religion and just don’t practice, are in a mixed-religion family that celebrates several holidays, converted from one religion to another, etc.  I was born Catholic, not raised religious, and have repeatedly passed for Jewish because of my appearance.  And because of that uncertainty and the extreme likely potential of offending someone by wishing them a happy/merry holiday they don’t believe in, I take the safe and respectful route and say “Happy Holidays”.  I’m not intentionally disrespecting the person or their beliefs, just telling them that I don’t know what they celebrate this time of year, but no matter what they do celebrate I hope it’s happy. Why is that so offensive?

Another reason I don’t have a problem with people saying “Happy Holidays” is that it’s a better description of the way we celebrate Christmas.

As far as I can tell from my interactions with people and my research on the subject, the biggest problem people have with “Happy Holidays” is that it’s taking Christ and the Christian beliefs out of holiday season.  I may be Agnostic, but never once have I felt that Christ should be removed from holiday season.  I feel Christ has every right to be in the holiday season, but not exclusively.  I know I will offend people with this statement, and I truly do apologize in advance, but Christians do not have sole claim to the holiday season or even Christmas itself.

When you look at how we celebrate Christmas, it’s a combination of several different beliefs. The nativity scene is definitely Christian, but the tree can be traced back to Saturnalia, the wreath is regularly credited to Wiccan, the mistletoe came from the Druids, Yule is a Scandinavian fertility god, and Santa is a combination of several religious icons such as St. Nicolas and Odin.  These are Pagan symbols adopted by the Christian church, combined with the moving of Jesus’ birth to the Winter Solstice, to appeal the religion to those they were trying to convert, just like the use of eggs and bunnies, Pagan symbols of fertility and the Spring Solstice, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus has been a part of Christmas for a long, long time, just like Paganism has, so I truly believe we shouldn’t remove the Christian claim to the holiday just as much as I believe we shouldn’t remove the Pagan claim to it either.

Unfortunately though, there are a lot of people who feel that to not recognize Christian superiority in society is that same as attacking it or declaring a “War on Christmas”, and that’s not the intention here. The bottom line is that no single religion has sole claim to the holiday season, even Christmas itself. The idea of Christmas has long since transcended any single religion or any single idea.

More than a religious holiday Christmas has become a family and social holiday.  Even very religious people don’t go to church or regularly recognize the religious side of Christmas.  And people complain about the commercialism of the holiday, but in this day of worrying about the economy, imagine what would happen to the economy if Christmas wasn’t so commercial.

It is a major problem with any group trying to tell a school to shut down a Christmas toy drive because it’s not called a “Holiday” toy drive, just like it’s a major problem for people to threaten to boycott a major retail store because they ran a commercial including “Happy Solstice” along with other religious greetings for the holiday season. I don’t believe any school should have to take down “Merry Christmas” decorations, but I do believe they should include the other holidays representative of the student body.

A politician calls their tree a “holiday tree”?  So what?  We’ve already established that it’s not a Christian symbol to begin with and as a politician he/she represents all their citizens, not just the ones of the same religious group.  A politician calls their tree a “Christmas tree”? Again, so what?

How you celebrate the winter holidays is entirely up to you. It’s it not up to anyone else to tell you how or what to celebrate just as it’s not your place to do the same to others.  Just like so many things in life there are fanatics on both sides spoiling the situation for everyone.

People are worried that the religious way they celebrate the holidays are going to be banned, just as others are worried that unless you celebrate the Christian Christmas, your holiday season means nothing. The reaction to “Happy Holidays” isn’t the problem, just the result of the overall problem. “Happy Holidays” shouldn’t be the only greeting we hear this time of year, but it does have its place. It’s a good thing that has been given such a terrible spin and reputation that people forget the true message behind it.

So please understand in these closing words just exactly the message I mean when I tell you, have a happy holiday!