It’s that time of the year again: Why “Happy Holidays”?

So once again we are into the winter holiday season, and once again the controversy continues regarding the use of “happy holidays” versus “merry Christmas”. Here’s a recap of the many posts I’ve made over the years on the topic:

Why this still comes up, year after year, is a mystery to me. In fact, this year my Facebook feeds have been flooded with this particular piece of digital dung:

A better way to say this is “It’s not Happy Holidays, it’s Merry Christmas if you are Christian.” From this christianwebsite.com article, 31% of the world’s 7.8 billion people identify as Christian. That means that 69% of the world’s population is not Christian and that 69% identifies with some other religion or worldview, whether a different theistic religion or a completely secular system of beliefs. It’s possible even some of that 31% don’t observe the current, modern, commercialized version of Christmas, and some of the other 69% observe the general “spirit of Christmas as an occasion of exchanging gifts and similar festivities, and go along with continuing to call it Christmas to avoid “making waves”. Indeed, the past posts where I discuss the so-called “war on Christmas” show just how volatile this situation has been in years past.

I think I said it best back in 2013, the last of the posts linked above (with a couple of potential errors which I will note below):

I usually say “Happy Holidays” and I do so to include everyone, whether they observe Yule, Litha, Christmas, Kwanzaa, HanukkahZarathosht Diso, Grav-Mass, Saturnalia, or something else entirely. To many non-Christians, “Merry Christmas” has about as much meaning as “Happy Yule” or “Io Saturnalia” does to Christians. Seriously, try wishing someone “Happy Yule” or “Io Saturnalia” and see how they react.

This, by the way, is nowhere near an exhaustive list. Indeed, the secular/atheist/humanist gathering I recently attended branded itself as a “winter solstice party” which is not on this list as such. (That particular party, by the way, was a great excuse to try a Moscow Mule, which is now my favorite cocktail at least for the moment.)

Regarding the apparent errors:

  1. Apparently the correct name/spelling of the Zoroastrian winter holiday is Zartosht No-Diso. I’m not sure where I got the original from.
  2. Litha perhaps shouldn’t be on this list as it is a midsummer festival, though perhaps it may be observed by pagans and others in December in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, most of South America and Africa, etc). I have retained it for the moment with that note.

While it is still as of now a work in progress, the current version of what I intend to be a near-exhaustive list of late November to early January winter holidays reads as follows:

  • Christmas, Christians (including Protestant denominations and Catholics), December 25
  • Kwanzaa, African diaspora, December 26 – January 1
  • Hanukkah, Jewish, 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (November/December)
  • St. Lucia’s Day, Sweden/Norway/Finland, December 13
  • Las Posadas, Mexican, December 16-24
  • St. Nicholas Day, northern Europe, December 6
  • Mardi Gras, January 6
  • Boxing Day, UK/Europe, December 26
  • Yule, Germanic pagan origin but observed by some modern pagans and LaVeyan Satanists, usually December 25
  • Grav-mass (Isaac Newton’s birthday), December 25
  • Yaldā Night/Chelle Night, Persian origin, Iran/Iraqi Kurdistan/Afghanistan/Azerbaijan/Turkiye, December 20, 21, or 22 (winter solstice)
  • Quaid-e-Azam’s Day/Jinnah’s Birthday, Pakistan, December 25 (may be observed alongside Christmas)
  • Chalica, Unitarian Universalists, seven days starting with the first Monday in December (some observe a seven-week variant starting in January)
  • Zartosht No-Diso, Zoroastrians, December 26
  • Litha, neo-pagans in the Southern Hemisphere, December 25 (unconfirmed)
  • Saturnalia, ancient Roman origins with modern observance unknown, December 17-23

There are undoubtedly others, and I look forward to finding new entries to this list for next year.

In closing, happy holidays and merry wishes to all. I am looking forward to an even better year in 2024.

Revisiting the “war on Christmas”

So I’ve been looking over past posts, particularly those addressing what has come to be known as the “war on Christmas“. These include the following:

It seems like it’s been “all quiet on the front” for the past few years. Particularly in the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage. A “war on Christmas” pales in comparison to a virus spreading across the globe. Either way, “the war on Christmas” is or was quite palpably a ridiculous load of bovine excrement.

As I read back through both those posts and the above-linked Wikipedia article, it’s shocking to read some of the things that have happened. It’s nearly two decades old, but this incident is particularly egregious:

In 2005, when the city of Boston labeled their official decorated tree as a holiday tree, the Nova Scotian tree farmer who donated the tree responded that he would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday” tree.[12]

The tree farmer misses the point, and could use a remedial history lesson in the tradition of tree decoration and its origins. Before the Christians adopted tree decoration as part of their Christmas holiday, pagans decorated trees in celebration of Yule, the pagan winter solstice festival (Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide; Rätsch and Müller-Ebeling, 2006). Christmas itself was the Christian co-opting/takeover of many winter pagan festivals, most notably Saturnalia. So many Christians are vocal about “putting the Christ back in Christmas”. This is quite ironic since, centuries ago, it was the Christians who forcibly inserted their Christ and God into pagan celebrations.

It is likely that December 25 does not match up with the actual birthday of Jesus in the modern calendar. Indeed, some still celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Julian calendar which is January 7 of the modern Gregorian calendar. Isaac Newton may well have been on to something. Newton theorized that December 25 was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice. The idea behind that would be for the Christians would “take over” the previously pagan holiday festivals.

So, since we now know the pagans both celebrated the winter solstice and decorated trees before the Christians did, it makes no sense to call out the city of Boston for daring to call it a “holiday tree”. I mean, yeah, the farmer is certainly entitled to his/her own opinion, or to express regret over donating the tree after it’s called a “holiday tree”. The reason for calling it a “holiday tree” is to include everyone who celebrates any winter holiday, whether it is Christmas, Boxing Day, Festivus, Hanukkah, Yule, Grav-mass, Kwanzaa, Yalda, Dongzhi Festival, Quaid-e-Azam’s Day, Chalica, Soyal, Pancha Ganapati, or any others of which I am not aware and have thus omitted. Calling it a “Christmas tree” or even a “Yule tree” is potentially exclusionary against those who observe other holidays.

And then there are cases where radical Christians apply their pressure to corporations, particularly retail advertisers:

  • In 2005, Walmart was criticized by the Catholic League for avoiding the word “Christmas” in any of their marketing efforts.[13] The company had downplayed the term “Christmas” in much of its advertising for several years.[79] This caused some backlash among the public, prompting some groups to pass around petitions and threaten boycotts against the company, as well as several other prominent retailers that practiced similar obscurations of the holiday.[13] In 2006, in response to the public outcry, Walmart announced that they were amending their policy and would be using “Christmas” rather than “holiday”. Among the changes, they noted that the former “Holiday Shop” would become the “Christmas Shop”, and that there would be a “countin’ down the days to Christmas” feature.[13]

The most cynical interpretation of this backlash is “Damnit, our ancestors fought long and hard to steal Christmas from the pagans, and you want them to think it’s okay to call it Yule or Saturnalia again?” This is obviously not what the Catholic League had in mind. Looking at history, though, it’s easy to see it that way. In fact, being well read on the history of winter solstice celebrations and a long-time atheist makes it hard not to see it that way.

Worse, quoting from the article referenced as #13 above (Tricia Bishop’s article from 2006):

“In the past, our ad copy used wording from vendors’ descriptions, and that tended to use the word ‘holiday,'” Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively said in an e-mail. “This year, to be more accurate, we describe Christmas-specific items, such as Christmas trees, with the word ‘Christmas.'”

“Christmas-specific items” as if nobody who celebrates any other winter solstice holiday would decorate a tree. I’d like to think Walgreens has come around on this; it may be time to switch preferred drugstores otherwise. Moving down the Wikipedia list:

  • In 2005, Target Corporation was criticized by the American Family Association for their decision not to use the term “Christmas” in any of their in-store, online, or print advertising.[80]

Unfortunately Target gave in back in 2005 only a couple of weeks into the holiday season. To be fair, not mentioning a specific holiday is something I would expect Target to do (more so than its chief competitor, Walmart). Even more unfortunate is that people would boycott a retailer over this. Omitting “Christmas” is, at its root, really just an attempt to be more inclusive.

Is that really what Christianity is about, hounding people/companies and making a stink if they don’t openly bow to the Christian world view, even at the potential perceived exclusion of others? I’d like to think otherwise. I realize the Catholic League and American Family Association (AFA) don’t represent the views of all Christians. (Or, in the case of the former, even all Catholics.) But it’s hard not to be judged by the company one keeps. This kind of thing is one reason I left Christianity decades ago.

And the hits just kept on coming:

  • On 11 November 2009, the AFA called for a “limited two-month boycott” of Gap, Inc. over what they claimed was the “company’s censorship of the word ‘Christmas.'”[88] In an advertising campaign launched by Gap on 12 November, the term “Christmas” was both spoken and printed on their website at least once, and a television ad entitled “Go Ho Ho” featured lyrics such as “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice” and “whatever holiday you wanna-kah”.[89] On 17 November, AFA responded to this campaign by condemning the ads for references to the “pagan holiday” of solstice, and declined to call off the boycott.[90] On 24 November, the AFA ended the boycott, after learning from Gap’s corporate vice president of communications that the company planned to launch a new commercial with a “very strong Christmas theme”.[91]

It’s not enough that the ads basically have to be “Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas blah blah blah Christmas Christmas” to not piss off the AFA. No, apparently, lest you risk an AFA-led boycott, you can’t even mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice”! At its root, solstice is a natural phenomenon. It only makes sense that regardless of religion or beliefs, a society of any size would organize a festival around it.

Again, the boycott was only called off after Gap, Inc. launched a new commercial that put Christmas front and center. Yes, Christmas, a winter solstice celebration timed deliberately to co-opt and overshadow pagan festivals occurring at about the same time, “stealing” them from the pagans and other non-believers.

And of course there’s the Starbucks controversy from 2015 which I’ve already written about. I wish I had known about the others sooner and/or already had my blog going back when they had happened. But the theme is the same: include everyone by not mentioning specific holidays, and sooner or later fundamentalist Christian groups will call you out on it; mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice” specifically, and you’re almost guaranteed the wrath of the AFA when they see it.

As I usually do this time of year, I wish everyone happy holidays, regardless of what holidays those might be. Even if it’s Yule a.k.a. the winter solstice.

Why I say “Happy Holidays”

While some may find this post offensive, my goals in writing this post did not include a deliberate attempt to offend. I wrote this post to establish my point of view, and also to enlighten those who may never have heard the truth about the history of the modern “Christmas” holiday.

With the coming of the winter holiday season, there’s been what seems like more than the usual controversy and flaming over the use of “Happy Holidays,” “Seasons Greetings,” and for that matter any holiday greeting besides “Merry Christmas” even though there are other cultures which celebrate other holidays. Maybe it just seems that way because of the fact Hanukkah and US-observed Thanksgiving happened to be the same day this year, which last happened in 1888 and won’t happen again until 2070 and 2165.

I usually say “Happy Holidays” and I do so to include everyone, whether they observe Yule, Litha, Christmas, Kwanzaa, HanukkahZarathosht Diso, Grav-Mass, Saturnalia, or something else entirely. To many non-Christians, “Merry Christmas” has about as much meaning as “Happy Yule” or “Io Saturnalia” does to Christians. Seriously, try wishing someone “Happy Yule” or “Io Saturnalia” and see how they react.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to everyone is that most so-called Christmas traditions actually trace their roots to other pagan or secular celebrations such as Saturnalia. Exchanging gifts was originally done as part of Saturnalia on December 23. There was also the Feast of Fools, the medieval successor to Saturnalia, celebrated at about the same time of year. The tradition of singing carols actually stems from Yule (which more or less coincides with Christmas at least in the Northern Hemisphere), a still-observed pagan winter holiday of gift-giving.

And finally it seems particularly odd to me, speaking as a non-Christian, that Christians would celebrate Jesus Christ’s birthday on a day in the middle of winter when Jesus was more likely born in the spring. The most plausible reason is that the pagan and secular winter festivals occurring on or about December 25 were much more popular and thus more inviting targets to usurp. Of course, this didn’t stop the Christians from usurping Eostar in the spring and calling it Easter. But I’ll save that commentary for the appropriate season.

While the takeover of traditionally secular or pagan holidays by Christians is understandable, it makes the assertion that there is a “war on Christmas” that much more offensive to me. To me, it looks more like the real war has been fought by Christians for centuries on holidays observed by those of other faiths, changing the name and even being creative with history in the name of spreading the gospel. It’s an understandable tactic, but calling a horse’s tail a leg does not make it one, and so it is with the winter holidays.

Happy holidays, everyone. I have a few more recent events to weigh in on before the new year is upon us.