Dec. 22, 2009 – Most of the advertising media, and much of our public space at this time of year, is devoted to Christmas. While crèches, angels and peace candles are often part of the mix, there is no doubt that most of the messages are concerned with the cultural holiday, not the religious one. It’s no wonder that Christians have been expressing concerns for half a century or more that Christmas has become too commercialized, and that religion has been pushed to the back of the line, if not out of the public space altogether. Since much of the grumbling seems to concern exchanges in shops and restaurants, I suspect merchants aren’t the only ones who regard the season as a business event. We’re all part of it.

Perhaps the biggest complaint of them all is the near-ubiquitous use of “Happy Holidays” or the even more banal “Seasons Greetings”, presumably to avoid giving offense to non-Christians. (I don’t know if anyone ever gave much thought to how anyone could get offended by receiving a simple wish for good things at a happy time of year.) While I have often heard the expression “Happy Holidays” used among colleagues and casual acquaintances, I don’t think I’ve ever seen “Seasons Greetings” anywhere but on skating rinks and “holiday” cards from suppliers. Still, business socials have become “holiday parties” and public schools are strongly discouraged from acknowledging Christmas, even though the religious festivals of minorities are on the lesson plan. Winter break and winter concert were the usual terms at public schools in my neighbourhood, perhaps because even a “seasonal” reference might lead inquisitive pupils to ask what season.

People who visit these linguistic inanities on us usually claim it’s so that everyone will feel welcome, whether they celebrate Christmas or not. It’s the spirit of inclusiveness, well-refined. If it means the majority is excluded, or that no one in particular feels included, well, you can still be religious in your home and church. Some say that the public expression of religion at Christmastime has been downplayed out of sensitivity to minorities, but I don’t believe that. For the most part, these changes have been made by agnostics and atheists, usually lapsed Christians who have no time for faith at any time of year. Few are newcomers to Canada or have much contact with those who are. It’s particularly patronizing of them, in my view, to imply that immigrants need or expect this secularization of us.

Nevertheless, and at the risk of speaking prematurely, I think our friends in the merchandising business may have lost the battle when it comes to language. For a couple of days in November, I was home sick with eyes too sore for reading, so I filled some of the time with daytime TV. On two noon-hour phone in shows, the question of the hour was “have you started your holiday shopping” and “what are your holiday plans? One by one the callers got on the air speaking of Christmas, Christmas shopping, Christmas dinner and Christmas parties. The hosts tried valiantly, using the politically correct terms with each new caller, only to be answered with chit-chat about Christmases past and to come. Some even mentioned Midnight Mass and Carol Services that they had always enjoyed. The only caller who spoke of holidays was referring to a vacation he planned to take in January. During the commercial breaks, a few of the advertisers seemed to be hedging their bets, speaking of the holidays during voice-overs but placing the word “Christmas” on the background displays.

Christmas is not primarily about the lights, the trees and the shopping trips, but they are part of what makes the season meaningful for all of us. When those who would just as soon ban all expressions of faith from the public square challenge the placement of religious symbols and whittle away at the language, we need to speak up and insist that the religious event we celebrate is an important part of who we are, and integral to the season. For most of us, that’s as simple as saying Merry Christmas, and saying it often. Happily, whether the advertisers like it or not, many of us already are doing that.

Most understand Christmas is the season, by League Executive Director Joanne McGarry,  The Catholic Register, December 20, 2009
– Knights of Columbus ad “Keep Christ in Christmas
– Christmas message featured on

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