May Your Seasonal Greeting of Choice Bring you Happiness


I wished someone a Happy Christmas the other day, then realized I was being somewhat premature and instead offered up hopes for a pleasant Advent, since that is the season we are currently in. I was told I should not be so presumptuous. That bought me up short. It also irritated me deeply.  

Now, those who know me well will attest to me being something of a curmudgeon. I would prefer the epithet “old fashioned”, but I guess it is not up to us to choose the words others use to vocalize how they view us. And, in truth, I may well have a curmudgeonly streak, in any case. I was born and brought up in semi-rural Sussex, in the southeast of England, where the unofficial motto, in the local dialect, is “We wunt be druv,” (“we won’t be driven”). That approximates to something like “We have a mind of our own, thank you, and won’t be dictated to by others.” Stubborn, if you like. Since I am now well past 50, I doubt I am going to get any less self-willed, but bear with me.

I have long disliked the North American greeting of “Happy Holidays!”; it seems too bland, too politically correct (although it long predates the PC world). It has become popular because it is supposedly both more secular and more inclusive, able to take in everything from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Kwanzaa and New Year; yes, and even Christmas.

The curmudgeon in me enjoyed discovering, courtesy of the History Channel website, that those resorting to “Happy Holidays!” as a religion-free greeting will need to look again. Holiday itself is a contraction of holy day, of course; that much I knew. But the phrase was apparently used by Christians as catch-all to take in the four Sundays of Advent, the 12 days of Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

The realist in me recognizes that, for many, Christmas has long since ceased to be anything other than a holiday (in the modern, secular meaning of the word). But that just makes it even odder that some people worry there are folk out there who might be upset by a religious greeting, or the wrong religious greeting.  

It is not as if I, born and raised an Anglo-Catholic (don’t ask, it’s way too complicated to go into here) am about to walk into a mosque, or a synagogue, or, indeed the middle of the nearest park and shout out “A Merry Christmas to all, but damnation to all non-believers”. But why should I not wish those I meet the blessings of this time of year? If my Christmas greeting is well-meant, it ought to be capable of being received in the same way.  

My favorite Yuletide ghost story is the wonderful “A Christmas Carol”, in which author Charles Dickens enjoins us, like the (spoiler alert!) reformed Scrooge, to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” The Christmas Dickens had in mind was surely a feeling, a way of behaving to one another, rather than the actual Mass of Christ.  

And so, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, and mean it with every good intention. Whether you keep Hanukkah, observe the winter solstice, mark Kwanzaa or do nothing at all, I hope you have a happy, relaxing time with family and friends. And let us all hope for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Robin Marshall


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