FLORENCE GILKESON: 'Happy Holidays' -- Not an Atheist Plot
'Tis the season, it seems, to express outrage.
It happens every year, as the sensitivity of one group of people apparently triggers the sensitivity of others.
I was perplexed a couple of years ago when people began expressing anger because department store employees were instructed to greet customers with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
Talk about Bah, Humbug. But you would have thought the very use of "happy" and "holiday" in the same breath was an obscenity. Yes, I know why the big department store marketing gurus sent down the word to avoid language associated with the Christian faith. In a pluralistic society, we acknowledge that Christians are not the only shoppers. We are surrounded by Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and other faiths, not to mention (gasp) atheists.
We all understand resentment toward Muslims, although this is a case more of political misunderstanding and emotional reaction than real honest-to-goodness Christian belief.
From childhood, I remember the family receiving greeting cards bearing the words "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." I accepted that as a generic greeting intended to encompass both Christmas and New Year's Day.
Sitting in the waiting room at my doctor's office Monday morning, I noticed a beautifully decorated Christmas tree in one corner. On the door to the examining area was an array of Christmas cards. I took a peak. A few were the expected greetings from pharmaceutical companies, but a surprising number had been sent by grateful patients.
The funny thing is that the two physicians who own and operate this practice are Pakistani Mus-lims. However, their staff is composed of women from the local community, all of whom are Christian. No doubt they are the source of the decorated tree. Then, on the other hand, I wonder how many Christian doctors actually put up their own Christmas decorations.
Few, I expect. I doubt there is anything in the medical code of ethics that requires doctors to celebrate Christmas, let alone decorate for the season. My Pakistani doctors could have ordered their staff not to decorate for Christmas, but they didn't. Their religious belief differs from ours, but this was a show of respect for the beliefs of their patients and their staff.
This will be my first Christmas as a resident of Scotia Village, the Presbyterian retirement community in Laurinburg. Everything is new to me, the decorations and the different ways in which my new friends and new neighbors observe Christmas.
I had occasion to walk up to a number of front doors this past week. Noting the seasonal floor mats at front doors, I saw about as many saying "Happy Holidays" as "Merry Christmas." For the most part, these are conventional Christian types, all of retirement age, and they certainly cannot be expected to ignore the traditional understanding of Christ's Mass. Did they acquire these mats as gifts from family and friends? Or did they pick one up at a sale, without paying much attention to the message?
In case you're curious, my own mat says "Merry Christmas" above a jolly Santa Claus. It was a gift from a favorite family member a number of years ago.
The secular influence on our Christmas season is overpowering. Our collective greed, overwhelming guilt and pride encourage us to spend more and more on gifts. By now, the Christmas buying season is what props up a big part of our economy.
Those department stores are not decorated for Christmas out of devotion to Jesus Christ. The same applies to the music blaring across warehouse-size retail stores. And to the greeters cheerily calling "Happy Holidays" or whatever, and sometimes not all that cheerily. Do you seriously think that the bottom-line watchers care about the religion of their customers? Payment from non-Christians may not go to Caesar, but merchants accept it just as readily.
Here in Moore County I have observed the behavior of Jewish friends at public events where a Christian speaker, usually clergy, delivers a prayer, ending always with reference to Jesus Christ. If offended, they have not displayed offense. Instead, they bow their heads or stand quietly in respect for our faith. It is an act of kindness, understanding and respect. Is it asking too much to expect Christians to behave according to the example of the Messiah?
We need to respect people whose beliefs differ from our own. We can't bury our Christian faith in economic fervor and expect everyone else to understand the difference.
A blessed Christmas to you all. Oh, and Happy Holidays too.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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