(Edited from an article I originally posted in 2009.)
A few years ago, American Family Radio (a fundamentalist Christian radio network based in Tupelo, MS) published its “naughty and nice” list of stores that they deemed “Christian-friendly” or “Christian-hostile.” Top of their list of “Christian-friendly” businesses: Wal-Mart. I guess things like paying a living wage, providing health care, ethical supply-chain practices, etc., don’t figure into AFR’s criteria. So what did they base this decision on? (Wait for it . . . ) Whether or not stores say “Merry Christmas” between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day (the “shopping season”) or if they say “Happy Holidays” instead. Those who say “Merry Christmas” get on the “nice” list, while those who say “Happy Holidays” get on the “naughty” list. Whatever.
1) No one “needs” to say “Merry Christmas” during the “shopping season” because it emphatically is not the Christmas season. It just isn’t. Look it up. Now, if I see someone at this time of year and I don’t know if I will see them again before Christmas, I am very likely to say, “If I don’t see you before Christmas, have a Merry Christmas!” But getting all hot under the collar because a cashier doesn’t say “Merry Christmas” when it isn’t the Christmas season makes no sense. The Christmas season begins–not ends–on Christmas Eve and runs through Epiphany: January 6.
2) While it emphatically is not the Christmas season right now, it is indeed the “holiday season” if we remember that the word “holiday” simply means “holy day.” There are plenty of holy days during the Advent and Christmas seasons. St. Nicholas’ is December 6. St. Lucy’s Day is December 13. Of course there is Christmas on December 25, but there are also the 12 Days of Christmas (December 25 – January 5), and that period includes St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), St. John (December 27), Holy Innocents (December 28), and Holy Name of Jesus (January 1). Then there’s Epiphany on January 6. Add to that the civil holiday of Thanksgiving that has already passed, as well as the civil New Year’s Day (January 1), and you’ll see that it truly is a holiday season, and that “Happy Holidays” is most appropriate. Then consider that other faiths have their own holy days during this time of year: Chanukah, Islamic New Year, and many others. Christ calls us to live in charity with everyone, not only the people who are exactly like us. Good Christians are good neighbors, and that includes neighbors who are a different religion from you. And if we’re upset that many people celebrate “the holidays” as simply a secular gift-getting time and do not use that time to honor the Lord Jesus Christ, forcing them to use a particular greeting, or shaming them into doing so, will do nothing to bring them to faith in Christ.
So, as a Christian, let me say, “Happy Holidays!”