President Donald Trump went before a Values Voter Summit audience here in Washington last week and declared, “We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
There is no warrant in law that directs Americans to say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays” or anything at all. How we greet one another during the holiday season, Mr. President, is our business. Americans have a right to do as we please.
As if we don’t already have enough trouble across the length and breadth of the land with Trump’s forays into cultural wars, the last thing the United States needs is combat over use of the words “Merry Christmas.” But here we are.
Telling a revved-up Values Voter audience that he is “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” Trump suggested to the crowd, which already thinks a “war on Christianity” is being waged, that invoking “Merry Christmas” is a way of fighting back.
He set it up this way: “You know,” he exclaimed, “we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore.” (Laughter from the audience.) “They don’t use the word ‘Christmas,’ because it’s not politically correct. You go to department stores, and they’ll say, ‘Happy New Year,’ and they’ll say other things. And it will be red, they’ll have it painted, but they don’t say it. Well, guess what?” he asked.
For Trump and those who see this as an issue, wishing fellow Americans a “Merry Christmas” clearly is a way to thumb their noses at America’s left and to strike a blow for Christianity.
Speaking only for myself, I fully expect to celebrate Christmas even if I never hear a “Merry Christmas,” because nothing in my faith tradition teaches that the celebration of Christmas depends upon the salutations I receive on the street, in the newsroom and at the grocery store.
Candidate Trump pledged at Liberty University in Virginia in January 2016, “If I’m president, you will see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me, believe me.” Well, believe me, my Christmas observance does not depend upon a department store’s season’s greetings whether secular, sacred or if they even obliquely allude to Christmas.
Besides, “Merry Christmas” as a seasonal salute is nowhere to be found in the Holy Bible, was never used by the early Christians and probably dates, at the earliest, to the 16th century.
It has become a tradition of a religious nature that is observed during a national holiday. But it now competes with “Happy Holidays” and other secular greetings because some people have come to realize that not everyone they meet is Christian. “Politically correct,” as Trump calls it? Or respect for the sensibilities of others?
What makes this whole dust-up over “Merry Christmas” so off-putting is the cynically manufactured nature of Trump’s advocacy. He’s doing nothing but pandering to a religiously conservative base, which he plays for adulation and smothered laughs.
Regardless of the greetings we encounter, the King household intends to observe the Advent season with time carved out for reflection and preparation for Christmas. The help of “Merry Christmas” proponents is neither needed nor wanted.
If the utterance “Happy Holidays” can ruin your celebration of the birth of Jesus, you may wish to set aside a little time for serious examination of your beliefs. And if hearing fewer expressions of “Merry Christmas” is causing some Christians to fall by the wayside, then their faith, indeed, rests on shaky ground.
I don’t believe that is the case.
Christianity, Christmas trees, chimney stockings and gift-giving aren’t going anywhere. Neither are the classics: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” Oh, they might have to share space with Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” but fear not, that secular, leftist element that scares the life out of the religious right can’t take those things, including “Merry Christmas,” out of the season.
For one simple reason, and this goes for Judaism, Islam and all the other great spiritual traditions, as well: Religion doesn’t depend upon secular society to keep going.
Something else is at work, and it’s deeper and more enduring than a holiday greeting.
It is beyond the reach of public discourse and can withstand anything secularism can throw its way.
Believers may wish to say it in unison: “Faith.”
It’s not to be played with, Mr. Trump. “Merry Christmas” cannot and should not be used as a wedge or crass political tool.