Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Merry Christmas and the Two Minute Hate

So, there I was yesterday on Facebook, minding my own business...wait, scratch that.  There I was yesterday on Facebook minding everybody else’s business in the form of clever status updates and cute memes and tons of reminders of how badly I’m failing at Advent already (thanks, fellow Catholic Facebookers!) and all innocently I stumbled into yesterday’s approved Two Minute Hate.

What was it?  Well, let me give some background, first.

You see, boys and girls, once upon a time in the not-so-recent past a whole bunch of retailers and corporate types and Madison Avenue bright boys decided that, while they definitely wanted people to go Christmas shopping and buy Christmas gifts and Christmas decor items, they couldn’t risk offending the tiny handful of people who are actually offended by the word “Christmas,” most of whom work for the New York Times.  I wrote about it at the time, and then again a couple of years later when this “War on Christmas” was in full force--though, to be fair and accurate, it was more like a "Wimpy PC Skirmish Against Saying the Word Christmas Out Loud" than an actual war.  The worst offenders were two groups: catalog retailers who would actually have pages of “Holiday” gifts and decorations and then a couple of specific pages of Hanukah gifts or decor and/or Kwanzaa gifts or decor (which was inadvertently insulting to Hanukah and Kwanzaa because of the implication that whatever the heck they were, they weren’t “Holidays”), and other retailers who not only forbid their minimum wage clerks from saying “Merry Christmas” to customers (no, I’m not a “guest” in your store, so let’s forget that nonsense), but labeled absolutely nothing in their stores as a “Christmas” item, so that a search of their online presence under the word “Christmas” came back with zero results (along with the condescending yet unintentionally hilarious “did you mean....?” suggestions).

Well, at about the time I was writing about this stuff on my tiny and insignificant blog (say, five to seven years ago) lots of other Christmas shoppers (some of whom had large national platforms) started getting a bit miffed as well at the idea that Christmas was the Holiday that Must Not Be Named (but please line up here to spend your dough so we can stay in business).  Interestingly, some of the people most offended by the PC pile of excrement were not Christians, but Jewish and Muslim and even pagan people who while not actually celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday had no problem with the word “Christmas” or with the idea of Christmas parties, Christmas music, Christmas trees and lights and stockings, and Christmas feasting and merriment.

And the retailers noticed the fuss.  And some of them quietly started to change.  The “Christmas” word began appearing here and there.  Employees were allowed to say “Merry Christmas” if they wanted to. And this particular Christmas I keep getting catalogs advertising Christmas sales and Christmas gifts and All Things Christmas (this company is particularly notable, and they also stayed closed on Thanksgiving, making me want to shop with them this year).

All of which is a good thing, right?  It’s good that the PC silliness of Never Naming Christmas is fading away, right?  It’s good that more and more people, even in liberal urban enclaves, are quite comfortable wishing others a merry Christmas without having to ask themselves if people will be offended first, right?

Well, not according to the Two Minute Hate on Facebook yesterday.

You see, according to them, none of the above ever happened.  What happened was that sometime last week the Powers That Be at Knee-Jerk Right Wing Enterprises sent out a marching order to all of their readers/listeners/followers instructing them to post cute things on Facebook like “Just Say Merry Christmas!” as an evil passive-aggressive way to politicize Christmas and point fingers of anger and blame at those terrible “Happy Holidays!” folks who are today’s iteration of the non-star-bellied Sneeches, poor innocent victims of the ever-churning misplaced outrage of the Right.

And, right on cue, the pile-on began.  How dare people insist on “Merry Christmas!”  Why, “Happy Holidays” was good enough for Bing Crosby and it can be good enough for you, too!  When somebody says, “Happy Holidays” to you and you reply, “Merry Christmas,” that is the exact same thing as using the F-word!  (No kidding, a commenter actually said that.)  “Merry Christmas” is the new Conservative Christian Swear Word, having edged out both “Bless your heart,” and “I’ll pray for you,” the other contenders, to take the throne!

I can almost imagine some of my fellow Catholics reading that sort of bilge and rushing to Confession: “Bless me, Father, for I wished a whole bunch of people a Merry Christmas without trying to find out first if they were Wiccans or something...” “For your penance, read Commonweal...” etc.

Look, I get that there actually are some passive-agressive Christians out there who might secretly take delight in wishing people a Merry Christmas in the hopes that they will be uncomfortable, but most of the Christians I know who say “Merry Christmas” just mean it.  And many of the people who say “Happy Holidays” are still a bit shell-shocked from the years when they were instructed at school and at work that it’s an unforgivable social solecism to say “Merry Christmas” outside of church; many will be quite glad to hear you say “Merry Christmas” back to them and may even relax a little and admit to random acts of Yuletide here and there, so long as the boss isn’t listening.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

And if you accidentally wish a Jewish person or a Muslim or an atheist a Merry Christmas, most of them will return your greeting with a smile, because most of them are quite aware that some 90%of their neighbors will be celebrating Christmas on December 25--and some of them may even join us, which the Child who came to be a light to the Nations likely doesn’t mind in the least.

What the Two Minute Hate people don’t perhaps realize is that it is perfectly possible for us to have gone through a silly season where Christmas was the only holiday that was never really named AND to be in a better place now such that most of us don’t pay the least bit of attention to Right Wing Noise Machine Memes and are not wishing people a Merry Christmas in order to get off a good Christian swear word.  Some of us just like Christmas, and want lots of people to have a Merry one.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I'm not sure the current round of marketing for the season is any improvement. Sears has "More Merry" all over their store on holly-green signs. JCP is working in "Jingle" on every sign, ad, and hash tag.

I guess I was lucky not to meet any of the Culture Warriors who refused to say "Merry Christmas" and I no one ever flipped out when I used any particular greeting - and I use them all. It seemed to be mostly a media-created crisis.

Chris Rock was on (a not very funny) SNL around Halloween time, and pointed out that we dedicate a whole season of commerce allegedly to celebrate the birthday of the most humble person in history, and afterward we deem it a failure if enough money was not spent.

The greeting we use in the marketing is the least of our issues, don't you think?