Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Holidays!!

Contrary to popular belief, Christ was not born on December 25. The best guess of Biblical scholars puts the time of year more towards autumn, most likely some time in September. Late December is the time of the winter solstice, a sacred time for the nature-based religions of pre-Christian Europe...and of today. Near this same time of year Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of light, remembering a time during a siege when a store of lamp oil sufficient for only a single night miraculously lasted for eight. Even the pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia during late December.

During the time of the Roman conquest and occupation of Europe and Britain, Christian missionaries found that they could more easily sway the local pagans towards conversion through the simple expedient of co-opting pagan religious observances and giving them a Christian theme. "The Roman Christians, ignorant of his (Christ's) birth, fixed the solemn festival to the 25th of December, the Brumalia, or Winter Solstice, when the Pagans annually celebrated the birth of Sol." Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. ii, Gibbon, p. 383. (For a lengthy list of pagan celebrations that fell on or about December 25 of each year, click here.) By mingling Christian worship and dogma with pagan customs and traditions until they were inextricably intertwined, pagans ultimately became Christians...and the origins of many once-pagan customs became lost in the mists of time.

Late December is a time of observation and celebration of people of many faiths, not just an annually belated birthday remembrance of a person born more than two millennia past. The Festive Season belongs to Christians, Jews, and unbelievers alike. It is not a holiday originated or owned by Christians alone. Sadly, however, there is a movement afoot to seize this universally shared season of peace and goodwill and brand it their own to the exclusion of all others. The internet abounds this year with selfish please of exclusion, begging people to refuse to enfranchise their non-Christian brethren by refusing to say "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" but to confine their greetings to "Merry Christmas," thereby behaving as if the observations of others are of no value and may be ignored--or overwritten, as it were--as if they do not exist.

The nice thing about "Happy Holidays" as a greeting is that it acknowledges and enfranchises everyone. From the most devout Christian to whom the word "holiday" still carries its original meaning of "holy day" to the non-Christian who may or may not have a holy day at this time of year to celebrate, the phrase "Happy Holidays!" and acknowledges everyone from the faithful to the devoutly secular, a phrase that joyfully wishes good cheer to everyone to whom it is addressed.

So what is the curmudgeonly excuse for those who admonish us to eschew such ecumenical greetings in favour of saying only "Merry Christmas"? While I find no fault in the phrase itself, I do find a meanness of spirit and flintiness of heart in those who would use the phrase a a means to exclude others from the festive nature of the season by denying them acknowledgement their own beliefs. How sad that a little knot of blindered, Scrooge-hearted souls can take a season revered for its goodwill towards all and turn it into yet another example of arrogant, unwarranted superiority by exclusion.

Those of us who believe that this season belongs to us all, please, greet your fellows with expressions of good will that encompasses us all. If you know the person you are greeting is not a Christian, perhaps you can take a moment to stretch yourself a bit and, rather than impose your own belief system on him, acknowledge his. Happy Hanukkah for Jewish friends, Happy Holidays or have a Joyous Festive Season for others. It's what the season is all about--celebrating goodwill to our fellow, not dampening their joy by implying their beliefs, whatever they might be, are inferior to our own.

Happy Holidays to you all!! And may your new year be bright, happy, and prosperous!!