Please, Wish Me a “Merry Christmas”

From the perspective of someone whose religion does not celebrate Christmas, two conclusions unrelentingly suggest themselves at this time of year: First, if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas is winning. Second, the partisans holding out in the forests for a homogenized society that rallies to the slogan “Seasons Greetings” need to lay down their arms.

The problem with the first group—the “war on Christmas” crowd—is that it plays to conservative identity politics, which is to say it trades in the currency of outrage and victimization and is consequently unbecoming.

The fact that Starbucks now serves both Holiday Blend and Christmas Blend coffees is not the driving force behind secularism, political correctness, or whatever else excites the frenzied imaginations of those who see Christmas as embattled. If anything, the far greater threat to the Christmas holiday is not those who say “Seasons Greetings” out of misguided but benign civility. It is those whose explicit “Merry Christmas” is commercial rather than religious in character. Commercialization is a legitimate complaint of those concerned about Christmas. But the cultural status of the holiday might give them an opportunity to spread its religious core that they are too distracted by outrage to take.

That said, if those who take offense at “Happy Holidays” need to relax, so do those who do not celebrate Christmas and who therefore insist on their right not to be told to have a merry one.  That is true for several reasons.

One is that offense is inseparable from intent, and wishing strangers or coffee drinkers or parade watchers a “Merry Christmas” is intended as no more than a solid bet that the recipient of the greeting will belong to what is, by far, the dominant religion in American society—or who at least celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. People should no more take offense at “Merry Christmas” than they should feel wounded by hearing “peace be upon you” in a Muslim culture. That does not mean American culture prioritizes one religion over others or that it denigrates non-believers. It simply means we need not take offense where none is intended.

Second, what members of religious minorities need above all is confidence in their own beliefs. If their traditions will be snuffed out by the whispered breath of someone murmuring “Merry Christmas” in another zip code, then minority religions have more serious worries than the onward march of Christian soldiers.

The constant worries about the “December dilemma” that supposedly afflicts non-Christian children—and trust this parent, the kids are over it and were, in fact, never all that concerned about it in the first place—or handwringing over the allegedly slippery slope of public expressions of religious belief fundamentally reflect self-doubt more than secularism. That insecurity threatens minority traditions more than the pervasiveness of Christmas.

The rush to offense generally comes from a posture of weakness. I grew up in a small Texas town that had not gotten the Supreme Court’s memo about prayers on the loudspeaker before football games. I was also a member of the only Jewish family in town. I was in college before I learned I was supposed to be offended. If anything, being a member of a religious minority strengthened rather than assaulted a sense of identity.

Indeed, the “otherness” of Judaism has been central to its preservation. Thus the most important reason to maintain the distinctiveness of greetings like “Merry Christmas”: The generic alternatives will not yield a pluralism of multiple perspectives. They will produce a pluralism without perspectives—which is to say they will act as a solvent on pluralism itself.

The beliefs minority religions seek to defend are reinforced by reminders of difference, which is among the reasons I am honored to work at a Catholic college that understands that its particularly Augustinian perspective on education is central to its identity and distinctiveness. In a diverse world, to say, “I believe this,” or at least to do so with conviction, is also to declare, “I do not believe that.” That does not, or should not, offend any more than minority religions should be insulted that Christians do not agree with them.  On the contrary, respectful social reminders of their distinctiveness will help minority religions thrive.

Nietzsche was wrong about most things but right about this one. He explained the vitality of difference to a thriving life:

And this is a general law: Every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon; if it is incapable of drawing a horizon around itself or, on the other hand, too selfish to restrict its vision to the limits of a horizon drawn by another, it will wither away feebly or overhastily to its early demise.

He meant that limitations are preconditions to growth or, in Nietzschean terms, life. Religious minorities should not welcome horizons “drawn by another,” but they should be eager to draw boundaries themselves. A genuine rather than corrosive pluralism helps to reinforce these differences and thus the beliefs that operate within them.

The absence of religious difference—or the refusal to recognize it—is all “unum” and no “pluribus.” Its tendency is to dissolve any perspectives at all and, therefore, the ability of traditions to learn from each other while preserving themselves.

So by all means, wish me a “Merry Christmas.” Next autumn, if walking through a Jewish neighborhood, take no offense at “L’shanah Tovah.” The same goes for other religions and the cultures that attend them. A salutary pluralism of genuine difference will reinforce them all.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on December 23, 2019 at 07:21:35 am

Happy Easter-The Doctor


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on December 23, 2019 at 07:50:45 am

As long as you don't get offended when I respond to "Merry Christmas" with "abolish school uniforms". "Merry Christmas" implies we are all unique, in which case we should be able to express that uniqueness in all mediums including fashion. You can celebrate christmas so long as i can celebrate the free expression that is the logical consequence of your belief that God created us each unique. China can have school uniforms because asians don't believe in gods or souls or dignity or humanity.

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Clark Countye
on December 23, 2019 at 10:01:24 am

Be Happy, already again.

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on December 23, 2019 at 13:17:13 pm

Merry Christmas. Below is a beautiful Christmas song in a beautiful church.


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Jon Rowe
on December 23, 2019 at 17:36:06 pm

Yes, but China does have wizards and we wizards do love our uniforms - long heavily soiled capes.
So can I wish you a Merry Christmas even if I insist on uniforms.

As for Mr Weiner, Happy Hanukah and thank you for a rather cogent take on tolerance.

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gargamel rules smurfs
on December 24, 2019 at 09:37:19 am

Well said. As a Muslim acquaintance said to me the other day, "Merry Christmas!"

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Lawrence Hall
on December 24, 2019 at 10:15:38 am

" Pluralism without perspective. " An insightful take. Thank you Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

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on December 24, 2019 at 10:49:58 am

In France, the standard greeting since as long as I can remember has been "bonnes fêtes" or happy holidays. You do see cards and signs that say joyeuse Noël, merry Christmas, but it is not the spoken greeting.

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Alan Kahan
on December 24, 2019 at 11:14:51 am

It seems like you're projecting here.

I can't think of a single case where Christians took any sort of action to force, pressure, or coerce people to not say "happy whatever" in public places.

I have never read an op-ed where Christians rebuke or scold Jews for not behaving a certain way on any Jewish holiday.

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on December 24, 2019 at 12:19:30 pm

Agreed, a cogent treatment. And all credit to Provost Weiner for constructing it. But there is no such thing as conservative identity politics, which is probably a contradiction in terms on perhaps several levels. And those who have spoken of a “war on Christmas,” though guilty of taking up a poorly chosen metaphor (and one generally chosen by those who have never seen actual war) are pointing to a calculated, choreographed and well funded effort across a half-century to put Christianity out of the both the town square and the cultural center in America. This effort advances still. It is at its core about neither identity nor politics, although it has implications for both. It calls forth questions, such as, what does Assumption College mean, how did it come to be and why is it here?

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Time Traveler
on December 24, 2019 at 15:00:13 pm

Well said, Professor Weiner. I have long believed that those who attempt to suppress the expression of other religions, politics, and views do so because they haven't much confidence in their own. Were I in India or any country where my Christianity was in the minority, I know I could happily watch their celebrations and wish them well without feeling my faith was at all being challenged (as long as no one tries to kill me). Yet here in my own country, the public celebration of Christmas (even the more secular carols, Santa, colored lights, etc.) has become a shadow of what it once was. Bricks-and-mortar retailers decorate for the holidays less and less. It's as if - like the greedy banker Mr. Potter in the film "It's a Wonderful Life" - they want our money but would deny us our happiness.

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Candace B
on December 24, 2019 at 15:02:43 pm


And have a Happy Hanukkah while you're at it.

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Harold Seneker
on December 24, 2019 at 23:09:33 pm

Weiner wrote, “In a diverse world, to say, “I believe this,” or at least to do so with conviction, is also to declare, “I do not believe that.” Let’s try this worldliness on a couple American principles.

I understand the Greeks suggested humans may establish equity under statutory justice. I think that refutes “Equal justice under law,” since law often needs amendment.

Does “In God We Trust” defy whatever-God-is?

Does anyone’s personal God defy whatever-God-is?

Can “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” negate “greetings”? I look gentile; why should I learn how to respond to “L’shanah Tovah”? Is “greetings” insufficient in Jewish neighborhoods?

I am a member of We the People of the United States as defined in the U.S. Preamble. I consider, collaborate, communicate, and connect for 5 public disciplines---integrity, justice, peace, strength, and prosperity---so as to encourage responsible human liberty to living citizens. As such, I consider it my duty to appreciate the cultural differences among civic fellow citizens and not pretend to know their ethnic practices, religious or not.
For example, I have never attended communion, because I do not believe in transubstantiation. I was reared Protestant. I worshiped as a Protestant in Catholic Churches for 2 decades before learning transubstantiation. I thought "Christian" meant "Christian" but attest to a myriad of doctrinal differences.

A Protestant coach told my son he would burn in hell because he was Catholic. My son told me he hated to face that coach, and I told him to pray for the coach.

I do not object to Weiner’s plea, but doubt he sincerely wants me to learn Hebrew so as to say “Hello” if I am in his neighborhood. I hope Weiner has a personal interpretation of the U.S. Preamble’s people’s proposition so that I could learn from him how to be a better member of We the People of the United States. However, I expect neutral greetings from fellow citizens I have not met. If not, I will not understand "hello".

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Phillip Beaver
on December 25, 2019 at 09:29:00 am

I thought of more tests of "I believe" as "I don't believe":

Does "season's greetings" negate "greetings"?

Does belief in church doctrine prevent acceptance of the-literal-truth?

Does the characterization "secular" prevent consideration, let alone acceptance, of the U.S. Preamble's neutrality to religion?

Is ridiculing "the horse Phil Beaver rides" more beneficial to citizens than considering the U.S. Preamble's proposition and developing a personal interpretation for living in the USA?

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Phillip Beaver
on December 25, 2019 at 09:56:44 am

Merry Christmas is a wish for a person's happiness. Seasons Greetings is a mere hello.

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Winston Bela
on December 26, 2019 at 19:36:28 pm

So , in the coming year, wishing others Ramadan mubaralk, Ramadan kareem, is a good step forward?

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KP Vocable
on December 28, 2019 at 21:24:13 pm

This is good. The writing is clear and logical without appealing to what does sound like conservative identity politics in many of this blog's other articles. Rather than being proud of our identity at the expense of others, as is a tendency with most people, this article proposes that we can be proud of others and ourselves at the expense of no one.

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Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.