Monday, November 30, 2009

Faith Works 12-5

Faith Works 12-5-09

Jeff Gill


Happy Holidays To You, & You, & You!



My e-mail box and Facebook page all tell me, with the best of intentions, I'm sure, that there are retailers who are "officially" informing their employees to say "Happy Holidays," and not "Merry Christmas."


No doubt.


Yes, we've been here before, haven't we? The so-called "Christmas wars" are right up there with Black Friday, extended warrantees, and heart-plucking tales of seasonal reunion as the Greatest Hits rotation for December.


Speaking purely as a Christian and as a pastor, I'm delighted that places of commerce, businesses with goods to sell and no time to spare, shops and stores and malls and merchandisers are all wanting to help make a very important point.


With all due respect to Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior, buying gifts has not a thing to do with the birth of Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nada.


Shopping, gift cards, exchanges, layaway, and most emphatically cashback credit card transactions are all activities which are near to the heart of our culture, but having little or nothing to do with spiritual growth. Catch me in a truly Scrooge-y mood, and I might observe they can erode and undermine the development of healthy spirituality.


So the news that stores are NOT saying "Merry Christmas" bothers me not at all. Good for them. And for those who say they won't shop at a store which says "Happy Holidays," good on them, too. If you want to make your retail line up with your religion, good luck with that, and I hope it goes beyond season's greetings (good luck with *that*).


Meanwhile, for all the militant secularists who are quite delighted at the faux culture war over "Merry Christmas," and are pleased that a misreading of the Constitution leads schools to ban instrumental versions of "Ave Maria" and want no one outside of a church building to say "Merry Christmas" –


What was that alternative you wanted to use? Oh, right, "Happy Holidays." Fine, except . . . nah, I'm sure you already know that.


Huh? No, I'm talking about "Holidays." It's a word derived from "holy day." A holiday is a day that is set apart, beyond the secular, everyday, a day marked as sacred, or "holy." A holiday.


Not liking "Happy Holidays" so much? Sure, there are other options. Some municipal celebrations have shifted over to "Winter Carnival."


Except the whole concept of Carnival comes from a church season still a ways down the road, the season of Lent, preparing for Easter. You fast and pray in Lent, so before the fasting begins, you feast on all the meat and fat and animal flesh you are supposed to avoid in Lent – in Latin, "carne," or "flesh." A carnival season is when the flesh is shared out and enjoyed to then shift focus to the spirit and the spiritual.


Carnival seems too churchy, then? How about a "New Year Festival"? That seems as safely, blandly generic as you could hope for.


Golly, though, it turns out . . . well, do you want to know? OK. A festival is a feast, a meal shared together by many. You can sort of see the word "feast," right? But the word itself, working back through Middle English to Old French and back to Latin once again is derived from "fanum," or temple precinct. In the fanum, a sacred meal was set apart for divine purposes, opened to all, and this is where the word "feast" comes from, out of the fanum. And then festival.


You almost get the idea that avoiding the holy or the sacred or the divine in celebrations is almost impossible, except maybe in Esperanto. By the way, according to the internet, Santa Claus in Esperanto is "Avo Frosto." Ah, Grandfather Frost. That worked out so well for the Soviet Union, didn't it?


Anyhow, if someone wants to wish me "Happy Holidays," I'll recall that this is indeed a time in which we should seek the holy. If the school calls it a winter carnival, that puts me in mind of the larger church calendar and that ultimately the flesh, the "carne" must be set aside, that the shopping will end.


If a festival is what we must have in whatever setting, my prayer is that we find that sacred space within which all may gather and feast on the goodness of God's gracious gift.


Or as a rabbi I once knew liked to say this time of year, to all us Goyim after the Hanukah celebration, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him how you'd like to label the season at, or follow Knapsack

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:19 PM

    Well said, my friend and colleague. If you put us together you might actually get one good sermon!