Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings
“Merry Christmas!” is a traditional greeting heard on many lips this time of year. I, myself, offer it to family, friends, and even casual acquaintances as often as I might say “Good morning!” at other times of the year.
At one point in my life, I worried that people who celebrated other things might be offended. I changed my mind more than a decade ago. It happened like this: While walking down a street on the day of the summer solstice, a young woman greeted me with, “Happy Solstice!” I was aware of the solstice from an astronomical perspective, but the concept of celebrating it as a holiday was new to me. Her cheer left me smiling. It was not offensive. I resolved to offer my own future greetings based on the happiness I was experiencing and simply let the receiver translate the good wishes into his or her own idiom.
In recent years, however, it seems that some of my fellow Christians have decided to don the mantle of the offended. Appeals to remember the reason for the season or to put Christ back into Christmas began to be shouted, not in joy but in anger. I’d like to pause for a brief reflection on two common salutations heard this time of year nearly as often as “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!” covers a broad spectrum.
Within the Christian cycle of celebrations there’s more than just Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Saint Nicholas Day, Dec. 6, honors the fourth century Bishop of Myra. Stories regarding his gift giving played a role in the development of traditions surrounding Sinterklaas in Danish speaking countries, Father Christmas in England, and Santa Claus in the United States.
Saint Lucy’s (Lucia) Day on Dec. 13 honors a third-century martyr remembered for the gifts of food and candles she brought to early Christians hiding from persecution. Saint Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26, remembers the first Christian martyr, whose official duties included distributing alms to widows. Holy Innocents Day, a solemn observance on Dec. 28, commemorates the young children who were ordered killed by King Herod during his attempt to murder the infant Jesus.
And, there’s also Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6 (in western traditions), marking the arrival of the three Wise Men who showed up in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In addition, a number of celebrations are associated with other faith-based and secular communities.
Among Jewish people, the eightday festival of Hanukkah remembers a miracle that enabled the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Among Buddhist people, Bodhi Day honors Sidhartha Gautama and his attainment of enlightenment. Kwanzaa is a cultural observance, celebrated from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1, honoring the African heritage of African-American people. It emphasizes seven principles: Unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Furthermore, nearly every culture around the world celebrates the changing of the year at New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Although the details vary and some calendars turn on dates other than Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, folks remember days gone by and anticipate better times to come. As for “Season’s Greetings,” the roster of celebrated seasons comprises a wide-ranging list. On the Christian calendar, noted seasons include Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), Christmas itself (not merely a day, but a short season comprised of 12 days), and Epiphany, which begins on its namesake day and stretches until Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the Lenten season leading to Easter.
Some people celebrate Yule, a festive stretch of days beginning with the winter solstice and lasting until New Year’s Day. Some observe a season of gratitude, giving, and renewal beginning with Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and extending until New Year’s Day. Some observe the winter, enjoying its weather and the human touches intended to bring cheer to cold and dark places.
So this holiday season, however you define it, please don’t join the grumblefest over which greetings our neighbors choose. Instead, I invite you to simply enjoy all the reasons people celebrate. In that spirit, I’d like to offer Season’s Greetings, wish you Happy Holidays, and hope that your Merry Christmas is truly blessed.
KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress. com.