As the winter holiday season approaches so does the know infamous war of phrases, “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays.” Those from one side of the political aisle will scream about a war on Christmas while those on the other side will drone on about political correctness. So, let’s look at the facts, myths and bold face lies surrounding the hotly debated holiday.
Christmas was made a national holiday in the United States in 1870 alongside Independence Day and New Year’s Day. This went largely unnoticed at the time because the designation really only applied to the nation’s capital. It wouldn’t be until later that the holiday became a federal holiday nationwide and became seriously challenged as an affront to the “separation of church and state”.
It is now time to visit our first myth, the separation of church and state. This phrase is a gross simplification of the practical relationship between religion and the U.S. government. While it is true the U.S. government cannot and should not endorse or hinder religious exercise, the two do not exist in a vacuum, and both are constantly becoming intertwined. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said in his majority opinion for the case Lynch v. Donnelly, “Nor does the Constitution require complete separation of church and state; it affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.”
Secondly, the establishment of Christmas as a federal holiday does not violate the Establishment Clause of the constitution. The government’s acknowledgement of Christmas is not about promoting Christianity, but rather it’s about accommodating citizens.
Again, quoting from Lynch v. Donnelly, “When government decides to recognize Christmas day as a public holiday, it does no more than accommodate the calendar of public activities to the plain fact that many Americans will expect on that day to spend time visiting with their families, attending religious services, and perhaps enjoying some respite from pre-holiday activities.”
The simple fact also remains that the government is not mandating you to participate in Christmas by simply recognizing it.
“How federal employees and other citizens choose to observe [Christmas] is their own concern,” the US District Court said in the case Ganulin v. United States.
Now on to the bold face lies. There is no war on Christmas. This idea of a war on Christmas is a political tool used to enflame traditionalists within our society to stand up for so called traditional values. This is a thinly veiled attempt to rile up this sector of society against the supposed onslaught of progressive ideals. If you find yourself in this group seeking to defend America’s honor by defending Christmas, stop. There are no serious legal challenges to erase Christmas as a federal holiday. While it is true organizations like the ACLU have sued the government several times over religious displays associated with Christmas, the organization doesn’t want to remove Christmas. They just want to ensure the government is not endorsing religion.
“Christmas celebrations in this country are alive and well,” Daniel Mach, ACLU director on freedom of religion and belief, said in a New York Times interview. “And as long as the government itself isn’t promoting religious doctrine, those celebrations are entirely constitutional.”
Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with your cashier at Wal-Mart saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. There are literally three national holidays spanning from the end of November to the beginning of January – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. It is without a doubt America’s holiday season, so happy holidays is convenient and accurate.
Conversely, saying merry Christmas is not a bad thing and it does not mean you are intolerant. Christmas is a national, federally recognized holiday in the US. Sure, it has a basis in religion, but it has really grown out of a simple religious feast day. Christmas is as secular as the Fourth of July and grandma’s apple pie in the US.
The Pew Research Center recently published a poll in which they found only 51 percent of Americans attend religious services in relation to Christmas, but 90 percent of Americans celebrate the holiday. How are they celebrating it? According to the Pew Research Center, 82 percent of Americans plan to spend Christmas with friends and family.
The U.S. District Court in Ganulin v. United States sums it up this way, “Courts have repeatedly recognized that the Christmas holiday has become largely secularized.”
It’s about taking a break from your everyday life to enjoy things like friends, family and maybe even faith if you have it, but faith is clearly not a requirement to enjoy a little Christmas cheer.
So next time someone says, “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas” just be thankful someone took the time out of their day to wish you a good holiday season.