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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

M is for Merry Christmas

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Cheerful Christmas greetings are exchanged with friends, family, and strangers throughout the Christmas season making M is for Merry Christmas the thirteenth Christmas tradition in my list of traditions from A to Z.  

is for Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas has been a traditional Christmas greeting for centuries. The greeting dates back to 1534 when one of Henry VIII's ministers sent the greeting to English King Henry in a letter. 

Scrooge"s nephew in the popular A Christmas Carol story greeted his uncle with, "A Merry Christmas, Uncle," which popularized the phrase in 1843 in the United States. The same year, Merry Christmas appeared in greeting cards. 

The phrase has fallen out of popularity in recent years in the United States, but I think it is still a wonderful way to greet people during the Christmas season.

Why is it okay to greet people with, "Merry Christmas?" 

organized religion change in America

According to statistics reported by Gallup polls in 1999, 70% of Americans belonged to a church, mosque, or synagogue. Gallup polls in 2020 show only 47% of Americans belonged to a church, mosque, or synagogue. Now since the polls include mosque and synagogue memberships, the number of Americans who belong to a church is less than 47%. 

We can no longer assume, "Merry Christmas,"  represents a person's faith. 

Since Christmas is still widely celebrated throughout America, a fair analysis of why many current Americans celebrate Christmas traditions could be they base Christmas traditions on their culture, not their religious beliefs. We grew up celebrating Christmas in our homes, in our schools, and possibly in churches that some no longer attend. Remember the decline in organized religion over twenty-one years was 23% of the American population. Therefore, the greeting, "Merry Christmas," is now a cultural expression of the season for them, not a religious expression. 

And, for some people, celebrating Christmas has always been celebrating a secular holiday in America, not celebrating Christmas for religious reasons. Even for people who are practicing Christians, faithfully attending Christian church services on a regular basis. 

Personal story of cultural celebration of Christmas

Why do I say this? Because celebrating Christmas in my family of strong Christian believers has never been about celebrating the birth of Christ. Christmas has always been a celebration of family and of culture. Why? My family has a strong fundamental, conservative faith based on trying to follow Christ and his teachings in the New Testament which commands believers to celebrate his death, burial, and resurrection every first day of the week. He commanded his followers to do this in his memory, "eat unleavened bread and drink fruit of the vine," which is known as Communion or the Lord's Supper. 

There is no command to celebrate his birth, and the Bible is silent on when he was born. Celebrating the birth of Christ began in the 4th century, long after Christian followers and churches began.   

Growing up with friends who celebrated Christmas as the birth of Christ was never a problem for my family. We were not offended when they sent us Christmas cards with, "Merry Christmas." Indeed, we also sent Christmas cards with, "Merry Christmas." My parents and church leaders carefully taught us why we did not celebrate Christmas as Christ's birth. We still sang Christmas carols, put up Christmas trees, had large family gatherings, were visited by Santa Claus, and exchanged presents. As an adult with many friends throughout my life who celebrate(d) Christmas as the birth of Christ has not been a problem. 

I would venture to say we were more tolerant of other's faith than what I see in today's world where people demand others not offend them and try to legislate how we interact so as not to offend. If a person greets me with, "Mazol Tov," or  "Ramadan Mubarak," I am not offended. Nor does my greeting, "Merry Christmas," mean to offend or expect everyone who hears it to share my religious beliefs. 

That's why I believe it is okay to greet people with, "Merry Christmas." We are sharing a cultural, joyful season of goodwill with others, regardless of their faith or personal beliefs. And, anyone is free to respond with, "Mazol Tov," "Ramadan Mubarak," or, "Happy Holidays," as we laugh together over the joy of a season filled with goodwill to all. 

But, please don't respond with, 
"Bah, Humbug."