In a continuation of words meaning things, about that ‘Merry Christmas’

I try to keep out and out rants off this particular blog, because that’s not what I want this blog to be about. In this case, however, I think the subject fits the scope of this blog.

As you may or may not be aware of, I work in retail. Happily, it’s a drug store, not a department store or a grocery store — and my heart goes out to those of you working in said stores this time of year, because I cannot imagine what it must be to work in those types of stores this time of year. Working at the drug store is bad enough, but at least I don’t have to worry about riots.

Still, working in retail makes the ranting that folks do regarding upcoming Christmas a subject I have to deal with every single day, and while I realize that, considering my likely blog readership, I’ll be preaching to the choir here, there’s two things I want to talk about.

First: the worry of the meaning of Christmas being lost in the frenzy of consumerism. This utterly baffles me. It seems straight forward to me. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I do give gifts to friends and family, and for a long time now those gifts have been simple, hand made things. Stories exclusively for my friends and family, or knitted items, or baked goods, etc. Nothing ever elaborate — no matter how elaborate the plans start out (you laugh, but we’re talking “oooh, I’ll supply everyone with a complete set of handmade bathroom linens! Or a complete set of winter woolens! Hats, scarves, mittens, and wool socks for everyone!!”) — but home made. Items assembled or crafted over the course of half a year in the comfort of my own home, and half the time while in pj’s. So, the mad-crazy-frenetic buy buy buy rush that the majority of people experience is removed from my life.

Considering the religious significance of Christmas that Christians have, I can fully understand the ‘coming together with loved ones and be warm and cozy and share with each other,’ mindset. Like with Easter, even as a pagan (possibly especially as a pagan? Certainly, especially as a member of the not-dominant religion) I am astounded by the secularization of this holy day of theirs. And my bafflement in clearly not aimed at the Christians who are taking steps to bring back the meaning of this holiday into their lives. I’m speaking specifically of the people who hobble in on Black Friday, after having been shopping for thirteen hours straight, who’ve been up all night, and who are complaining about how the meaning of Christmas is lost, and it’s ridiculous what we as a society has done to it, and it’s a shame, and so on. This is how you want to honor the birth of your lord and savior? By turning into a zombie and competing with other people in their mad dashes for the newest electronics? If you’re so miserable doing it, stop doing it! Don’t support it! Remove yourself from the problem as you see it, and then at the very least, you won’t have to deal with the problem any longer.

Second, and more dear to my heart: before you start going on about this ‘War On Christmas’, stop and think, eh? We started playing Christmas music after Halloween this year. This a new early-record. Half our store is transformed for two solid months with Christmas merchandise. What other holiday does that happen for? Oh, right — none. Mostly, though, I dismiss this from my mind. It’s absurd, obviously those who feel it is happen (it sort of goes hand in hand with my above comments — if you don’t like what you see, stop adding to it! Be the change you wish to see in the world, right?) aren’t going to be willing or able to consider another perspective.

But the one that really gets my goat is the “Merry Christmas” rant people indulge in. “I’m going to say Merry Christmas, I’m not going to worry about being all PC, it’s ridiculous how overly-sensitive people are!” (and yes, that’s a direct quote). I’ve heard this from people who I otherwise believe are quite compassionate and worldly, not just small town folks who haven’t ever had the change to interact with people who aren’t exactly the same as they are. (And before you get on me about slightly small town people, I grew up in one of those small towns, so I’m speaking from experience!) The truth is, such an attitude is hurtful. It causes anger and strife, to be sure, but for me, most of all, it causes pain. It discounts immediately the beauty, the joy, the peace, the comfort, strength, and love I’ve found with my gods, the better person I am because of my faith and my religious devotion, and it makes me hyper-aware of the potential pain that other non-Christian people may be experiencing because of the same situation. The attitude that this sentiment fosters does not come across as ‘we’re persecuted and so I’ll stand up for my faith come hell or high water,’ but rather as our own, authentic, non-Christian experiences are to be bulldozed over and pushed out.

I don’t know if the feelings would be the same for more secular-minded folks, but I’m deeply religious. Since I have such strong devotion to my gods, and such a love for my holy days, I am able to understand why other religious folks who are not of my religion but who are also deeply religious might find beauty and strength and joy in their religious paths — including Christians. But not exclusively Christians, you see the difference? Living in a multi-religious society, I really wish folks spent more time focusing on what could unify us, and allow us to have common ground with each other and less attention on divisiveness. And insisting that everyone acknowledge Christmas is an act of division.

My personal rules for holiday greeting etiquette goes as follows: I don’t assume people are Christian. Why should I? For all that there are more Christians than anything else in our country, in my daily life they are in the minority. I’m not, I’m certainly not going to assume others are. I do wish folks a happy holiday season. It covers a nice assortment of holidays (though admittedly completely glossing over the fact that many religions have no winter holiday.) and is open-ended enough. If nothing else, many people get days off from their job, and that can be a holiday without being a holy day. If I’m greeted with Merry Christmas, I return it. I echo whichever greeting I’m given, in fact — because it’s polite. Because the wisher is telling you what they themselves celebrate, and in that case, no, I do hope they have a happy celebration of their choice. It’s what I do to keep sane during these four weeks of madness. It helps.

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9 thoughts on “In a continuation of words meaning things, about that ‘Merry Christmas’

  1. An excellent rant! I generally just say back whatever greeting the other person gives me too, at least if I am at my job at the time, since it causes less fuss. The year-round “Have a blessed day!” so many people have adopted used to bother me because I know they mean it in a Christian sense, but then I decided *I’m* free to interpret it any way I please, so now I just wish them the same.

  2. Having worked in retail during the holidays I can sympathize and am eternally grateful that I am not longer working in such. Thankfully around about here the xmas music didn’t start up until Thanksgiving day, though the decorations were being put out before Halloween (the good news is that now I am starting holiday decorating everything is on discount at Michaels lol). And I agree entirely with your sentiments regarding Christmas. As a general rule I say happy holidays unless something specific is said to me and then I will say that back to them. If I said happy Dionysia though I don’t think it would garner the same result 😉 Though Blessed Solstice is at least recognizable hehe! But it does seem that this time of the year does evoke sensitivity among christians who demand put christ back in christmas and among pagans making a point to poke at christians with some of the borrowed traditions. I say lets all celebrate our holy days and be merry 🙂 I couldn’t care less if it is kwanza, christmas, hannukah, Yule, Khthulu day…whatever. No one should need to force their religious views on any one else, just allow everyone to keep it sacred in their own way. Ya know that whole peace on earth thingy.
    So in short like Beth said, great rant!

    • On the one hand, I’ve been in retail long enough that “retail seasons” don’t phase me — though I swear, they get earlier and earlier every year. This year, we received our first small shipment of toys in July, even though they weren’t going out until the end of September. Candy corn shows up in summer, too. On the other hand, such an environment does make me utterly weary of Christmas before it’s even December. I’m grateful, too, that they’ve started alternating Xmas songs with regular songs.

      I realize that it’s a sensitive topic for people, but like I said, I’m amazed that they can’t see that their own treatment of the holiday has got to be a huge part of their discontent. It’s not going to magically become this deeply spiritual, joyous holy day if the world suddenly all became Christian if the focus is still on consumerism. So, make the changes that one *can* make, and worry less about other people. It seems so obvious. *sigh*

      Happy Khthulu Day! heehee! If only Khthulu didn’t scare the dickens out of me!

  3. The thing about the everyone is too sensitive argument, its a double edged sword – if its ridiculous for someone to get offended by Merry Christmas, then its ridiculous to be offended by Happy Holidays. Its not like we’re talking about friends and family that know you and know your religion – its complete strangers and retail workers that are just trying to be polite. the argument that they’re just trying to put the Christ back in Christmas might hold more water with me if they weren’t fighting so hard to put it back in the secular world, back in the mouths of people that don’t celebrate it, back in the stores they say are ruining it with blind consumerism – Happy Holidays could be a good thing there, draw a nice clear line between celebrating the birth of your savior and trampling people to death to get the latest crap on Black Friday, that shit is not what Christmas is about so don’t even acknowledge it as such. Yeah, maybe, if that was what the “war on Christmas” was really about. (perhaps with some, certainly not its loudest TV sponsored proponents)

    I find that have a nice day works all year round; I don’t bring up holidays unless I know you well enough to know you celebrate. If I get a Merry Christmas then you’ll get a you too, that’s about it. But then again, I try to avoid the outside world this time of year as much as I can. *hugs the poor retail worker*

    • I’m not a big “happy holiday” person either — I generally don’t, which is sometimes difficult for me in my job, because it’s expected, and it ties directly in to what we’re marketing at any given time. Even Thanksgiving, because not everyone celebrates it, for many it’s a holiday with a ton of bad history, and I don’t like assuming what other people are doing/celebrate/what-have-you. I think that having a job dealing with the public at large requires following the cues of the people you’re interacting with and not pressing yourself on to them. They don’t want a lecture from the cashier at Shop Here and Then Go, they generally don’t want deep conversation that challenges their world view, they want their stuff, they want their small pleasantries and they want to go home. So, I try to follow their lead and leave it at that.

      I suspect that there are people involved who are genuinely unhappy with the consumerism, and it may seem like an easier thing to try to change the secular-inclined people than it is to change what amounts to mainstream American culture. But those who make the biggest noise generally are not the genuine people and are instead interesting in causing a fuss without being willing to contemplate their issues, the historical contexts of why things are as they are, etc.

      Just over a month to go. It’ll be okay. We’ll make it!

  4. A wonderful rant, as usual. I have a few Christmas bits and pieces mulling in my mind, but they aren’t ready to decant onto a page yet. I will say that I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the holy day being secularized. I was raised Christian, and this bothered me then. Frankly, I think it bothers me more now. Huh.

    • I realized last Easter that I found the commercialization of that holiday — which strikes me as the most important of the Christian holidays — as incredibly offensive. I was surprised at how much it offended me, but it really just does. Even the commercialization of Xmas doesn’t offended me quite as much. It makes me grateful that none of my holy days are popular or wide spread. Which is sort of sad in its own right.

  5. An excellent rant. Like you, I’ll tend to say back whatever the other person says to me. Unless they’re doing the aggressive “Merry Christmas” in a tone that makes it clear they’re not wishing you any kind of joy but rather daring you to disagree, in which case, they get a perhaps overly sweet, “Thank you. It’s not my holiday, but good wishes are good wishes. You have a Merry Christmas too.” That tends to leave them dumbfounded, and I like to hope once in awhile it sparks a thought somewhere.

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