I know this may make me unpopular with some of my Christian friends, but I really don’t mind saying, “Happy Holidays” to people at this time of year. It’s not that I want to take Christ out of Christmas. Far from it. But in my opinion, there’s nothing about wishing someone a happy holiday that threatens Christ or Christmas in any way.
First, Christ is bigger than anything I may or may not say. I couldn’t take Christ out of Christmas if I tried. I’m sure that someone reading this is thinking, “Wait, Sherry! Don’t you know that Christ is the reason for the season?”
Well . . . no. Actually, He’s not.
Wait! Don’t lynch me yet. Keep reading, please.
The Jewish people have been celebrating Hanukkah (or Chanukah) during this season since the 2nd Century B.C — which, of course, means before Christ was even born. It’s a celebration of the miracle of the lights, which occurred when Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem and massacred thousands of people, desecrating the city’s holy Temple in various ways.
There was some Jewish resistance and, according to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s central texts, Judah Maccabee led a group of Jews who drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem a couple of years later. They rededicated the Temple and wanted to light the Temple’s menorah, whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.
There was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for one day, but the flames burned for a full eight nights. That miracle inspired Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.
Meanwhile, Pagans had been celebrating the Winter Solstice in December (usually for around 12 days running from December 17 or so until December 25-ish) long before Christ was born. This holiday celebrates the rebirth of the sun, with the solstice falling on the shortest day of the year. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations known.
Ancient Greeks held a similar festival which they called Lenaea, the Roman Empire held Saturnalia celebrations, and the Norsemen of Scandinavia called the holiday “Yule.” Families would light Yule logs and would eat until the log burned out–which could take up to 12 days. Germanic people celebrated by honoring the pagan god Odin.
It’s interesting, I think, that all of the celebrations have to do with light. But that’s just a side note. A sign of how clever God is.
All of this does mean that, in fact, Christ is not the reason for “the season,” and to insist otherwise makes us sound uneducated, or at least uninformed.
Christ is absolutely the reason for the Christian holiday, the reason for Christmas (hard to argue since his name is in the title) but Christians didn’t start claiming any part of “the season” until around 336 A.D., which means that our Jewish friends and Pagan neighbors had a lock on the season for several centuries (at least) before Christians laid any kind of claim to it.
|Christian Advent Candles|
Some scientists speculate that Christmas was plunked down on the December calendar not because that’s when Christ was actually born, but because Pagans and Jewish converts to Christianity wanted to celebrate when they used to. Why miss out on all the fun just because you’d been baptized?
I have no idea if that’s true, or if Christ “just happened” to be born at the same time of year as these two ancient holidays. It could have been by design, or I suppose it could just be a happy accident, much like my late-ex-husband, who was born on July 24, the day the entire state of Utah goes crazy to celebrate Pioneer Day or the Days of 47. There are parades and fireworks and picnics and rodeos. It is, in fact, a state holiday, so lots of people take the day off work–but not because Leon was born (no matter what his grandparents told him.)
For everyone who is concerned that “they” (whoever “they” might be in your mind) are trying to steal Christmas from you, it might help to realize it’s actually the other way around. No matter how Christmas ended up in December, the fact is that we sort of nudged our way in to the already existing holiday season. So when my Jewish and non-believing friends wish me a “happy holiday” I’m good with that. I appreciate the fact that they’ve pretty much let us newcomers hijack the holiday season and they don’t complain about it too much.
While we’re here, I’d really like to set the record straight about the X in Xmas. The X also does not remove Christ from Christmas (or even attempt to.) It is, in fact, the first letter of the Greek word “Christos” transliterated into our alphabet as an X — which has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ. So despite popular (but misinformed) opinion, it’s not a bad thing.
So I don’t mind saying “Happy Holidays” to my friends or sending holiday cards to my business colleagues who aren’t Christian. They know I celebrate Christmas. I know they don’t. We respect one another and, in my opinion, that’s how it should be.
In my professional life, I meet lots of people from lots of different backgrounds and many, many different beliefs. In my experience, showing people respect for their beliefs goes a lot farther toward fostering good will toward men and, indeed, toward gaining respect for Christianity than, say, hitting people over the head with a 2-x-4 and trying to force them to acknowledge what I believe.
I think of it as being a sort of good will ambassador, I guess. That approach sits easier with me than any other.