I have been informed by several friends that they have been making a point to say “Merry Christmas” to anyone who wishes them “Happy Holidays”. It would seem that some of them do it in such a way as to let the other person know they disapprove of the well-wishes that have been offered. There’s nothing like a firm “Merry Christmas” to enforce orthopraxy. Great way to spread the Yuletide cheer.
Yes, I understand that all the evangelical enforcers of “Merry Christmas” are trying to keep the “Mass” in Christmas (or something like that). And while this is of noble intention, it is entirely misguided. It is part of the Christian “War on Christmas.” (And you thought it was all about the other guys.) It is trying to cram all of that merriness into one day. There is only so much comfort and joy (comfort and joy) you can fit into one day of glad tidings, but when it’s done, it’s done. It’s time for the after-Christmas sales, when exchanging gifts takes on an entirely different meaning.
But as long as we’ve been wished a “Merry Christmas,” our consumerism is sanctified and the rest of the Holy Days can languish unnoticed. For many Christians today, one special holy day is enough to hold them til Easter. At the same time, they cut themselves off from the Church throughout the ages and from the sanctification of time.
Christmas isn’t so much a day as a season. In that sense, I’m quite happy to receive “Season’s Greetings”. It is not a season in the sense of the four meteorological seasons of the year. Rather, it is in the more generic sense of a period of time about which there is a common factor, like deer season. Of course where I’m from, deer season has somewhat religious overtones, so “Season’s Greetings” may have more than one meaning.
When we just focus on the one day of December 25th, we miss the fullness of the Christmas story we celebrate.
For example, we miss the Feast of Stephen. We hear about it in that occasional carol, “Good King Wenceslas”, but do we take the 26th of December to ponder the full implications of the Incarnation? Jesus was born to die, so that we might be called to die. Maybe not like St Stephen, the proto-martyr of the Church, but we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. St Paul, who had witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Then we miss the Feast of St John the Apostle on the 27th. From one who died so young to one who died so old. When John was very old and living in Ephesus, he would be carried into the church on the Lord’s Day, and though too weak to say anything else, he would tell those assembled, “Love one another.” The Feast of St John ought to be the feast of love – more so than St. Valentine’s day.
We also miss the Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as Childermas. They are a part of the Christmas story we often overlook. In one sense, they are the proto-martyrs of the Church. And as part of that story, the Holy Family became undocumented immigrants in Egypt. December 28th should be a commemoration for innocents who are murdered in rebellion against the Lordship of Christ, often upon the altar of convenience. And of course it should be a special day of remembrance for those who are compelled to migrate across borders for their own safety and security. I can get a lot of mileage out of this one.
On the Octave of Christmas, there is the Feast of the Circumcision and/or the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. We celebrate that Jesus came as a good Jewish boy, living under and fulfilling all of the Torah. We celebrate that the King of the Jews is the King of the World. We celebrate that eight days after He was born, at His brit milah, He was given that Name that is above all names, the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess. Because of His circumcision, there is now neither Jew nor Greek. Or as St Paul put it more bluntly, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” (1 Cor. 7:19)
But even though these days are feasts in their own right, they are also four of the twelve days of Christmas. We spend more than four weeks in Advent anticipating the arrival of the newborn King. The birth of God as Man deserves more than one day of holy partying.
(Even though St Paul originally meant it for division between those Christians celebrating Jewish holidays those ignoring them, Romans 14:5-6 applies here. The middle sentence is, “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” I just feel sorry for those who don’t, though I love them just the same.)
So if you wish me a Merry Christmas, I’m still going to have Happy Holidays.