Sorry, but that offends me

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Every year at this time we go out of our way to voice good wishes to everybody around us, even strangers. It seems to bring out the best from us.

Usually.

This is also the time of year when composing an email brings with it that big decision of whether to finish with “Merry Christmas!”, or to play it safe and write “Season’s greetings” or “Happy holidays”. You see, at this time of year, some people can get offended if you speak the name of Christ.

Except of course when they jam their toe, or speak of last night’s hockey game. Then, under those circumstances, it’s OK to speak every Christian name under heaven, often in various strange combinations and iterations and with colorful adjectives. Funny that! I have yet to hear someone yell “oh Buddha” or “Satan Beelzebub” under similar circumstances.

This week’s Maclean’s magazine takes another look at this annual angst. Last week, the CBC reported on an upcoming public debate on whether or not it’s appropriate to say ‘Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays’. And earlier this week, CBC TV trotted out again a statement made a couple years ago from the floor of the House of Commons, read by Nina Grewal, Conservative MP for Fleetwood – Port Kells, British Columbia, a Sikh herself, who lambasted this overreaction on the part of political correctness (you can view it at this link). In fact, she called attention to the hypocrisy and inconsistency of it. Nobody blinks an eye when you speak of Hanukkah, Ramadan, or Kwanzaa, nor “Festivus for the rest of us”, so why the aversion to Christmas? And she invited the rest of the House to wish each other a Merry Christmas. It’s at times like that that one wishes it were possible to click the ‘Like’ button on the TV.

Her point is sound: this is in fact a major Christian holiday. You can’t deny that. Sure it was commandeered by the early church a millennium or two ago: a previously pagan celebration of winter solstice reconfigured by the early church. But very few people today actually celebrate winter solstice … beyond feeling the need to point out that “The days only get a little longer from now on!”… so that’s not a reason to get one’s nose out of joint.

Just the same, there still seems to be an epidemic of disjointed noses and allergies to certain phrases at this time of year.

Which in turn prompts an over-reaction from the other side: this is also the time of year when one hears once again about the ‘war on Christmas’ from our neighbors to the south. The ‘battle’ includes the efforts to stifle the use of the word ‘Christmas’ … giving us expressions like ‘going out to get the Holiday tree’ and ‘spreading Yule time cheer’ … and the substitution of Oh come, oh come Emmanuel with Frosty the snowman. Hardly a war I would say, especially given that nearly every TV channel broadcasts more than one celebrity-studded Christmas concert complete with sweeping renditions of “Oh Holy Night” (one of my Christmas favorites).

Another traditional offense which is incorrectly associated with this ‘war on Christmas’ is the use of the word ‘X-mas’. “They’re taking Christ out of Christmas”, some will complain, ‘they’ referring to the secular, politically-correct heathen hordes. Except this substitution is not a recent phenomenon. This replacing of ‘Christ’ traces back to the Christian community itself. ‘X’ is the Greek letter ‘chi’, and became in the first century the symbol of the cross and of Jesus Christ. You may have noticed in a cathedral or very traditional church a symbol that looks like a letter ‘P’ inserting itself into the letter ‘X’ … those are the first two letters of the Greek spelling of Christ. And the references to X-mas itself go as far back as the 16th century. So this is NOT a recent invention or tactical maneuver in the ‘war on Christmas’.

Coming from a Dutch background, I have to also talk about Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of Santa Claus, who arrives on December 6th to bring gifts and sweets to all the good children. Unfortunately, he’s accompanied by Zwarte Piet, aka ‘Black Pete’, whose job it is to punish those children who were naughty. Which naturally draws cries of racism and offense. Perhaps time to retire this tradition?

You might be able to come up with other examples of Christmas traditions causing offense to one group or another. It’s a stressful time of year, with all the predatorial shopping, financial depletion, over-full parking lots, clogged roads, arduous travel connections and strained family gatherings. Just the same, perhaps at this time of year when our natural biological metabolic rhythms are signalling for an extra insulating layer to cope with winter, and we’re all putting on a few extra pounds from all the office parties and the boxes of chocolate, perhaps we’re all nonetheless a little too thin-skinned and sensitive at this time.

And so to all the readers of this blog, let me echo the words of Charles Dickens’ Timothy Cratchit: “God bless us, every one”.

 

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