Why Our Christmas Greeting Cards Say “Happy Holidays”
December 14, 2017—Christmas greeting cards are not about Jesus. At least for me.
HH and I send Christmas cards every year as my own parents did for over 30 years. It’s an intentional practice to connect – at least one time a year with photos and a quick note.
Sending Christmas cards is more for me than anyone else, just like Yelp. I use Yelp as a food diary (“Where did we eat that amazing burger?) and I use Christmas cards as a picture diary. (“That the was the year TBC lost her front teeth.”) Our Christmas cards go to Jewish friends, Muslim friends, Christian friends, and lots of “nones.” We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but they don’t, so we say “Happy Holidays” or “Peace on Earth” or something everyone can relate to.
It would feel weird to receive Hanukkah cards or Ramadan cards from Jewish and Muslim friends because we don’t celebrate those things. But they also send us Happy Holiday cards.
Saying “Merry Christmas” makes sense for Christians. But not all my friends are Christians.
And Christmas is not just about greeting people merrily. It’s about the Incarnation of God who came to us, humble and small. It was a political act 2000 years ago for God to come to break the powers of death, and – for some – it’s a political act now to say “Merry Christmas.” But if friendly greetings are our most public mark of our faith, we are missing the point.
Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season. But not so that we can say “Merry Christmas” and decorate trees. I love to say “Merry Christmas!” I love to decorate trees. But Jesus wasn’t born for those things.
I believe that Jesus might just turn over our fancy tables festooned in red and green if he comes back this year. It feels shallow to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while failing to lament the fact that Sandy Hook happened almost 5 years ago and still our gun laws fail us. It feels foolish to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while we cut taxes for the wealthiest of the wealthy and ignore the poor. It’s kind of ridiculous to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while turning away refugees who look a lot like Mary and Joseph.
Not to be a downer (probably too late) but Christmas is not about what most of us focus on this season – even if we call ourselves followers of Jesus.
Followers of Jesus protect victims of abuse. Followers of Jesus serve the vulnerable. Followers of Jesus get angry about injustice. In his life, Jesus did all those things for the sake of love.
Christmas is about the incarnation: when love put on human skin. We can say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we mark our faith publicly by living a life of service for the people Jesus loves.
My parents’ cards usually said “Merry Christmas” because they didn’t know anybody who was not celebrating Jesus’ Birthday. If that’s the case for you, then it makes sense for you to write “Merry Christmas” on all your cards too!
But identifying as Christian has less to do with the words we say than the acts of love we do.
Jan Edmiston, PC(USA) GA Co-Moderator with T. Denise Anderson, is the associate executive presbyter for ministry in the Presbytery of Chicago, where she has served since 2011. Prior to that she served congregations in northern Virginia and New York. She completed her MDiv at Andover Newton Theological School and her DMin in Christian Spirituality at CTS in 2001. She has graciously agreed to let us repost some of her blog entries (including guest bloggers) from A Church for Starving Artists.
Originally posted on December 6, 2017 in Jan Edmiston’s A Church for Starving Artists