Merry Christmas … I think?

A reader asked me to comment on the following overheard conversation:

“Merry Christmas!”

“Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas”

“That’s too bad…it’s a season for everybody…a time of love, fellowship and cherished memories.”

“You don’t get it…I’m not Christian.”

“Doesn’t matter what your denomination is; nobody should deprive themselves of enjoying this season of love and joy.”

The best response I ever heard on this topic was Ayn Rand’s answer to the question as to whether it’s appropriate for an atheist (like herself) to celebrate Christmas. Her reply was:

Yes, of course. A national holiday, in this country, cannot have an exclusively religious meaning. The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: “Merry Christmas”—not “Weep and Repent.” And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance . . . .

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.

Christmas, by this definition, is for everyone.

The error made by the person in the conversation above is one of dropping the full factual context. The person wishing you “Merry Christmas” isn’t trying to impose any particular religion on you. They’re simply wishing you good will, in a happy, cheerful, benevolent and non-sacrificial way. It should be self-evident, but the cranky response involves a deliberate evasion of this obvious fact.

If someone came up to me and said, “Weep and repent,” I’d tell them to get lost. But if someone wishes me Merry Christmas, I take it as a good wish and gladly reply the same, even though I am not religious myself. It’s not the time to debate philosophy, and it’s not a violation of integrity because I know precisely what I mean when I say, “Merry Christmas” right back.

The kind of person who will respond with hostility to Merry Christmas is typically a politically correct, chip-on-the-shoulder type of person. This mentality, as we know from other contexts (hint: recent election), cannot stand the fact that other people in the world disagree with him or her on various matters. Instead of finding constructive and motivating ways to spread one’s ideas in the proper contexts, such a person instead goes through life with a constant need to point out differences of opinion of little or no importance to the person on the receiving end of them.

The person bragging, “I’m not Christian” in this example probably prides him- or herself on not being religious. However, the manner of expression is just as bad as the worst kind of religious person. The worst kind of Christian (or any other religious person) deliberately seeks to bring up the subject of religion, even when it’s not directly relevant, for the sake of launching into a homily, rant or tirade on why you should adopt his or her ideological point-of-view. But how is it any different when a non-religious person (most often the politically correct type, as I said) does the same thing?

And with this full context in mind: Merry Christmas, everyone!


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