Friday, November 26, 2010

The Spirit of the Season

Today I had some business to transact at my bank, which gave me occasion to deal with a teller. She was wearing a printed card above the nametag on her uniform shirt that said, "Happy Holidays." I thought about it while I was making the deposit, and made a decision: I told her that I appreciated the bank's decision to make it "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas," since I knew there was pressure on some businesses to get rid of "Happy Holidays," and I wanted to let them know I approved of their choice. She looked a bit nonplussed -- probably no one had said anything about it to her before -- but thanked me.

Since I read this article about the pressure on retailers by some Christian groups, notably the American Family Association, to "recognize" Christmas, I've been pondering what ought to be done about it. I suppose one reason the pressure groups have had success, even if they may be exaggerating it, is that not many people really are anti-Christmas or want to "censor" Christmas. I don't object, or mind, when someone says "Merry Christmas" to me, whether they be stray individuals or employees in a business. As the Advertising Age reporter wrote,
This year's [National Retail Federation]/BigResearch survey found that 91 percent of consumers plan to celebrate Christmas, compared with 5% for Hanukkah and 2% for Kwanzaa.

"Retailers dipped their toe into the Christmas waters again last year, and there wasn't much push back. There wasn't a huge outcry from groups offended that retailers were saying Merry Christmas," said Ms. Davis. "We see the word Christmas being used much more this year than three or four years ago. The pendulum seems to have swung back."

I don't think there should be a "push back" at retailers who stress Christmas in their promotions or customer service scripts; for non-Christians to organize such a thing would be to sink to the AFA's level. But as I did today, I will try to praise businesses that use the generic "Holidays" label (even if they also mention Christmas -- Christmas is one of the holidays involved, after all). And I've been toying with the idea of a mild response to individuals who wish me a Merry Christmas. Not to workers in stores and such, who I presume are saying what they've been instructed to say, but individuals. Something like this, maybe:
OTHER PERSON: Merry Christmas!

ME: Oh, thank you for the thought, but I'm not a Christian.
This is bound to make people defensive, so I want to be as pleasant about it as possible, but many Christians evidently need to be reminded that they are not the only people in the world. That's why "Happy Holidays" came into use, if only for a while. If it's "politically correct," as the AFA spokesman calls it derisively (Christian love in action!), it's also good manners. What I have in mind is not so much a pushback as a "We shall not be moved."