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Let's try to remember meaning of Christmas

Well, thank you Wal-Mart! This year, it brought the "what shall we call this season?" debate to the front lines, with its announcement that employees will use the greeting "Merry Christmas." I think I have figured out some of the reasons I find this whole issue far more insulting than any greeting of "Happy Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa" I might receive.

As a child, I remember helping my parents send out Christmas cards. Yes, we called them Christmas cards, because we were Catholics and that was our interpretation of the season. However, there were not only two different lists of addresses, one for family and one for business associates, but there were two different cards. There were Christian-oriented cards, which we sent to our family and friends who were Catholic, and "Happy Holidays" cards, which we sent to my dad's customers.

My job was to stuff the cards and then affix the decorative stamps that bore serene depictions of a winter's evening. One year, I asked why we had different cards for different people, and my father explained it very simply. He said that not everyone celebrates Christmas, so by sending a card that just said "Happy Holidays," nobody would feel slighted.

This made good sense to me, even as a child, because I understood that people were different and nobody should feel left out of the festivities.

Fast-forward 45 years or so. Now can somebody please tell me why this way of thinking is suddenly inappropriate? What turned the simplicity of good manners and respect of others' beliefs into some warped perception of religious condemnation?

If the word "Christmas" is not used exclusively in every yuletide greeting, does it make the season any less sacred? This has turned into some perverse battle to see whose side has the largest amount of advertising for its holiday, and who will win in the end. Should this really be our focus?

Sadly, most people at this time of the year are far too distracted to be bothered with things that really matter. There are obligatory parties to attend that most people would prefer to pass on, as well as rushing from one mall to another in an attempt to find every single gift requested on the kids' lists.

The excessive decorating and baking rituals leave everyone too exhausted to enjoy them once they are completed. Is this still the most wonderful time of the year?

This year, maybe we can direct our energies a little differently. Why not give half of the money we would normally spend on unnecessary gifts to a worthy charity?

Instead of gathering with friends for the twelfth buffet in six days, spend one of those evenings helping to serve dinners at a homeless shelter.

If you are really feeling daring, have everyone in the family turn off their electronic devices for one evening, and gather at the kitchen table to simply sit and chat over eggnog and hot chocolate.

Above all, we should stop arguing over seasonal semantics and concern ourselves with what the season is about, rather than what it is called.

Maybe this is a good time to explore winter customs and traditions other than your own, and risk being surprised at how much common ground we all share. Maybe then we will be able to see things with new eyes, and the phrase "Happy Holidays" will once again become a joyful greeting for everyone.

Michele S. Hiczewski, of East Aurora, thinks it makes perfect sense to say "Happy Holidays."

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