Why I don't default to 'Merry Christmas'
Reading that, a considerable number of people just clenched up like a fist. There are eyes twitching and angry choking sounds being made.
“Why won’t she just say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Why do we have to pander to people? Why does she hate Christians?”
Simmer down. Drink some eggnog, have a gingerbread cookie and let me explain.
I am not part of some militant gang looking to remove Christ from Christmas. I’m not trying to minimize the story of Jesus’s birth in favor of Hanukkah menorahs or Kwanzaa candles or a secular cultural explosion of fat guys in sleighs or magical snowmen. Although, to be honest, I’m down with candles of all kinds and I’ve got a killer latke recipe.
Nope, my “happy holidays” is very much grounded in Christianity.
My family is a mismatched sock basket of European culture, largely Germanic, mostly Austrian and Swiss. It doesn’t mean much most of the year, but December is when we really shine.
The Christmas tree goes up early. So does more than one Nativity scene. My mom was downright twitchy the year someone broke the pink candle for the Advent wreath. December is our thing.
But our thing isn’t just Christmas. It’s part of it. It’s a big part of it, arguably the largest part, but we start celebrating before the turkey leftovers are packed away and don’t stop until we’re into January with a succession of holidays.
In our house, the Advent calendar wasn’t just a way to scam chocolates as you counted down to the big haul on Christmas Day. It was a road map that took you through a month of celebrations, and for us, one of the most important came early in the month.
St. Niklas Tag, or St. Nicholas Day, falls on Dec. 6. In Austria, it’s the day old St. Nick stuffs candy and presents, not in your stocking by the fire but in your shoes. For us, it was a dress rehearsal for Christmas that got excited kids through the rest of the month.
Then there were the Sundays of Advent, leading up to the big day. There was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. There was Christmas Eve with midnight Mass and candles and choirs, which never seemed to end in the “Okay, now what?” feeling you got after opening presents on Christmas morning.
And it didn’t stop there. While New Year’s Day ended the holidays for many, our tree didn’t come down until after Epiphany on Jan. 6.
When I wish someone happy holidays, it’s not an empty gesture. It’s not a way to avoid the sacred aspects of Christmas. It’s a way to wrap you in them, along with any other holidays you might celebrate, all tied up with one all-inclusive bow.
The word “holiday” after all, is a Twix bar of a sentiment. It is “holy” and “day” in one package.
So as we go through December and into 2019, let’s enjoy ourselves and extend those wishes to everyone we meet. Let’s focus on the feeling and not ascribe intent.
Let’s have a joyous Kwanzaa and a happy Hanukkah and a merry Christmas and an absolutely fantastic New Year. Let’s celebrate all the big and little holidays that come before and after and between. Let’s spell them out individually if we feel like it.
But if I give you a heartfelt “Happy holidays,” don’t get mad.
Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review Community Engagement Editor. Reach Lori at email@example.com