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War on Christmas? What ‘Happy Holidays’ Really Means

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We used to call the yearly struggle with the secularization of Christmas the “war on Christmas.” But here’s a secret: Jesus already won that war. Here are a few ways to rejoice in his victory:

When they say “Happy holidays!” say, “Thanks. I celebrate all the holy days!”

“Holidays” is simply a word that means “holy days.” If someone thinks they are being less religious by saying “Happy holidays!” they are mistaken. You can remind them that saying “Happy holidays” in December means happy St. Nicholas’ Day (Dec. 6), happy feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), and happy memorial of Sts. Juan Diego (Dec. 9), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12) and Lucy (Dec. 13).

And don’t forget the feasts after Christmas: St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Evangelist, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Holy Family and Epiphany.

When they say “Season’s greetings!” you can say, “And a blessed Advent season and Christmas season to you, too!”

The only reason we have the phrase “Season’s greetings” is the fact that the Church proclaims Christmas a “season” instead of just a day. But this is also a very appropriate greeting in Advent, which is a penitential season of preparation for a celebration yet to come.

When a store displays lights, evergreens and ornaments, thank them for the reminder of Christ.

There are reasons Catholics invented Christmas trees and decorated them in ways that remain popular today: Strings of lights remind us that Christ is the Light of the world. Beautiful ornaments remind us that he has showered our human nature with blessings. Evergreen branches remind us that Christ’s life is always fresh and new.

When someone hands you a card, you can say, “God bless your family, too!”

No one sends fall, spring or summer cards, even though the changing of the leaves, spring flowers and summer vacation are much more worth celebrating than soggy snow and dead trees. People send cards, even cards with winter scenes, because of the proximity of Christ’s birth — and that alone made our winters festive.

Some Christmas cards show a cozy home and perhaps a Yule log. These are celebrations of the very idea of the family, which, as we know it, is a Judeo-Christian concept. Christians ended pagan practices, insisted on monogamy and raised the status of women — making home scenes truly cheery.

When people give you New Year’s greetings, tell them, “His birth changes everything, even the year!”

The new year is determined by a calendar created by a pope who wisely placed the change in the year so that it would be associated with Christ’s birthday. The birthday itself is celebrated a few days after the winter solstice so that, as the days grow longer, we will celebrate God’s entrance into his world.

So we should celebrate Christmas boldly and fully. Pope Benedict XVI’s words of encouragement would make a good Christmas greeting:

“If we let Christ into our lives,” said the Holy Father, “we lose nothing — nothing, absolutely nothing — of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide.”

And that is why, despite the fact that all of those other phrases have a tie to Christ, we like to say “Merry Christmas” and encourage others to do the same. The more we insist that there is no shame in mentioning Christ’s name, the more we guarantee that he will always be impossible to ignore.

 

Photo: mateja, Flickr Creative Commons

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Fatima Family Handbook and What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. He writes weekly for the National Catholic Register and Aleteia. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Catholic Digest. He lives in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife, April, and has nine children.