Only Donald Trump could make Christmas about himself. He declared on Twitter that he had led the charge on the "assault" on the phrase "Merry Christmas," and a PAC even jumped on board, spending a million dollars to thank the Donald for 'allowing us' to say “Merry Christmas” again. (Ironic that a self-professed serial sexual assaulter proclaims himself a defender against an imagined "assault." SMH.)
According to this PBS Newshour report ("How the 'war on Christmas' became a political rallying cry") Sean Hannity and other Fox News personalities raged for years that there has been a “war on Christmas.” Supposedly Christians were being victimized by an increasingly secular American society that was trying to ‘erase’ Christianity and Christmas by demanding we all say “Happy Holidays.” Not surprisingly, this played to their half of our partisan divide. 2/3rds of Democrats prefer “Happy Holidays” while 2/3rds of Republicans prefer “Merry Christmas.”
Christianity hardly seems under threat, with 70% of Americans stating they ascribe to one Christian denomination or another, according to the Pew Research Center. Still, 6% have other faiths, and about 40% report no affiliation or “nothing in particular." Presumably, the numbers add up to more than 100% because some people check more than one box. There are plenty of Jubu’s (Jewish Buddhists) as well as Christian-agnostics out there. Many of my patients report they are “spiritual but not religious.” Spirituality has become largely a personal affair with probably as many variations as there are people. Christians often talk about personal relationships with Christ or God – we all have those kind of personal relationships to the Bigger Picture. For many of us, that bigger picture is science, or humanism, or compassion, or love itself.
That’s really why I say “Happy Holidays.” It’s absolutely not out of disrespect for Christ or Christianity, but rather out of respect for my fellow human beings who are of many faiths, or of no faith tradition at all. “Happy Holidays” feels more inclusive and loving to me. The greeting recognizes that there are many holidays being celebrated at this time, from Hannukah to Kwanzaa to (in some traditions) Buddha’s birth to New Year’s. Moreover, many people have been hurt by religions, including Christianity. As a psychiatrist, I worry that I might make people relive their old wounds by reminding them of the powerful role Christianity plays in the world. And after all, “holidays” is derived from “holy days,” providing the spirit of heart and warmth that we all need in the darker days of winter. According to the Newshour segment, apparently most retailers prefer “Happy Holidays” as well, out of respect to our diversity.
In the end, I don’t think Hannity’s crusade is about Christianity at all, but rather his own ego-menical political traditions. He's not defending Christianity or Christians (who don't really need a defense, do they?), but rather a particular kind of Republican White male viewer who feels under threat by changing demographics, or at least likes to pin their insecurity, alienation and anxiety on those demographics. Their motto seems to be "when in doubt, blame someone." When Hannity and the president stick up for people who are not like them, then I'll believe their professions of faith. As it stands, their declarations sound like self-serving and jingoistic deathbed conversions to me. They wrap themselves in the flag and cross, destroying what's sacred about both. Their proclamations totally misrepresent what I always hoped Christianity to be, at least as embodied by many good-hearted people around the world.
WWJD? The man who said “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”? I would think humility and love would be more important than defensively reacting to benign, inclusive holiday greetings. I find myself wishing Hannity, the president and others would act with the depth, kindness, reflection and consideration I have experienced from every genuine person of faith I have encountered. Instead, we have the strange paradox of religions turned to service the narcissistic ego, rather than helping us transform and transcend the ego, with its pernicious failings of greed, hatred, and self-centeredness. Witness supposed Christians who support alleged child molesters and deny climate change, and supposed Buddhists who support genocide.
WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) Probably weep. Like many of us are doing as we watch the daily news.
May you have a Peaceful and Happy Holidays, and may the New Year bring us all light.