In a PC mad nation, there was once a rush to purge “Merry Christmas” from the lexicon of polite society, or at least local school districts. For fear of offending offensive people (let’s face it, anyone offending by a joyous and peaceful religious sentiment ought to be considered at a minimum intolerant or, in a less PC vein, offensive), “Christmas” vacations became Winter breaks and “Easter” vacations became Spring break. All the while, taking the Lord’s name in vein fell under the embrace of “free speech.”
But that’s for the extremist element we all read about but rarely encounter in real life. What about us common folk who simply wanted to do the right thing? We didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but we wanted to still practice our religion.
Well, I think I accidentally stumbled on an answer to the question “Is it OK to wish ‘Merry Christmas’ in public?” Here’s what I did (at a Cub Scout pack meeting of all places).
Cub Scouts (and Boy Scouts in general) has a core principle that promotes religion. It doesn’t promote any specific religion but all religions. So, unlike a public school, there’s no question about the theoretical propriety of talking about religion as part of a formal get together. As a boy, I remembered how we all looked forward to the Christmas pack meeting and the Secret Santa gifts we would receive. Sure they were relatively low cost trinkets (think the equivalent of today’s dollar store), but we cherished them as special treasures. In fact, I still have mine in my bedroom – a small globe bank.
When it became my turn to serve as Cubmaster, I wanted to make sure the boys had a memorable Christmas pack meeting. For various reasons, we didn’t do the Secret Santa thing (I don’t remember why) but we did play lots of games, skits (including a special “star” skit) and ran the meeting like a variety show. It was meant to be all fun – and it was. Except for one thing. I wanted the boys to be comfortable wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even to non-Christians. Luckily, one of the other leaders celebrated Hanukah and I asked him to “co-host” with me.
Here’s the reason I did that and the answer to the titular question of this essay. I wanted to wish him a “Merry Christmas” and I wanted him to wish me a “Happy Hanukah.” I actually got this idea from a client of mine who once told me, “You’re not Jewish, so don’t wish me a Happy Hanukah, wish me a Merry Christmas. I’ll wish you a Happy Hanukah.”
And so I did.
In the process, I think the boys learned to share and accept greeting in the language of different religions, because those greetings are most sincere when coming from someone who actually practices that faith.
The school might not be able to say “Merry Christmas” but I can.