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Our View: Christmas confusion

What greeting to use and when to use it

Editorial Board | Echo

As the holiday season kicks into gear, cheerful seasons’ greetings can be heard in houses, stores and classrooms all over. Many Christians, going about their daily tasks, don’t think twice about wishing a “Merry Christmas” to friends and strangers alike. Some instead default to the more neutral “Happy Holidays.” Which one is more appropriate, however, has caused many debates among the Christian community.

Professor of Philosophy and Religion Jim Spiegel prefers “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” regardless of the beliefs of the person he is greeting.

“After all, Jesus Christ came as savior for the entire world, not just for those who already believe in him.” Spiegel said. “(But) I certainly wouldn’t be offended if an observant Jew or Muslim said ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Happy Eid Al-Fitr’ to me.”

Though many see no issue with always using “Merry Christmas,” regardless of context, there are others who many see it as offensive to those who do not celebrate Christmas, which can cause tension in relationships.

In this context, both Spiegel and Graduate Student in Campus Ministries Josh Meredith emphasized politeness and relationships, while still remaining firm in what they themselves believe.

The debate of what seasonal greeting to use affects much of our lives

The debate of what seasonal greeting to use affects much of our lives

“Tolerance is not about achieving some sort of shared secularism but rather allowing people to express their religious (as well as political, artistic, etc.) convictions, including in the form of polite personal salutations,” Spiegel said.

Meredith uses whichever greeting he deems appropriate for the situation. In most instances, this means saying “Merry Christmas,” but in situations where an individual may be uncomfortable, Meredith believes it is worth reconsidering his word choice. He emphasized the importance of relationships over specific words.

Faculty Adjunct of History Bill Ringenberg believes that everyone should choose their own preferred greeting and be free to do so.

“Each individual should feel free to use the expression which is natural for them,” Ringenberg said. “. . . Because I believe in religious freedom and separation of church and state, I do not favor using the government to promote a specific religious view.”

The Editorial Board believes that usage of the phrase “Merry Christmas” is by no means an obligation, and we would not be offended by anyone using other greetings such as “Happy Holidays.”

On campus, we would say “Merry Christmas” due to this being a Christian college, where most members of faculty, staff and student body are all professing Christians. However in a context outside of Taylor University where people we encounter may not, and likely will not, profess the same faith, we believe it is good practice to change our greetings. To a stranger, we would say “Happy Holidays” in order to avoid unnecessary awkwardness, abrasiveness or offense.

“More important than the choice of phrase is the position of one’s heart and attitude towards others,” Meredith said. “If I say ‘Merry Christmas’ but I am intentional and aware of how others receive it, I have a better chance of building a relationship instead of blindly burning bridges for the sake of my own preference. As Christians, yes, we have every right to say ‘Merry Christmas,’ but is the meaning of the season really lost if someone prefers ‘Happy Holidays?’”

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