I’m probably not the person who should be writing this post. There is a short list of things that I get violently angry about and Christmas, well, Christmas isn’t one of them. I’m a lapsed Catholic who freely engages in that whole freedom of conscience thing. Like I pretty much ignore the Church on a few issues that other folks (in my family for instance) take pretty seriously. But I’m also a sociologist who studies the sacred and morality and this whole war on Christmas thing serves a sociological purpose, belief it or not.
First, the belief that Christmas is under attach creates a feeling of solidarity among a segment of the population that sees (correctly or not) that their way of life is under attack. It doesn’t matter if anyone is actually attacking anyone else. The belief that “they” are preventing people from practicing their religious freedom is real and this belief translates into action and into a sense of solidarity with others who feel the same way. In a world where people are feeling their sense of community slip away (again real or not) this sense of solidarity is powerful. It’s why people listen to Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reily. Both shows preach to the choir so to speak, reinforcing worldviews about the other side and making people feel like they belong, that their views are justified and that they are not alone.
Second, this sense of solidarity should not be underestimated. Don’t say it’s just sad and lonely people who watch these shows. Don’t say it’s just a bunch of disgruntled white folks bitching about the fake war on Christmas. To dismiss this sense of solidarity is to deny the power of belonging – and humans are wired to connect. We need it. We are born needing it. In an experiment on baby monkeys (because doing this to human babies would be beyond unethically wrong and to be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable doing this to baby monkeys either), baby monkeys had to choose between a wire mother who offered food and a cloth mother who offered no food but offered snuggles and comfort. The baby monkeys would rather starve than be denied affection and belonging. Don’t dismiss people’s need to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves.
So for those of us who don’t get up in arms about Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays, remember that some people take this very seriously. It is vital to their sense of identity that they are allowed to say Merry Christmas just like it’s vital to my sense of identity to acknowledge that hey, I have Jewish friends and Muslim friends and Atheist friends and not everyone celebrates Christmas. Some people look at the season to be with family or to exchange gifts. I’m okay with that. I don’t have to force that on anyone else.
So if someone says Merry Christmas to me, I’m just going to return the greeting however I’m comfortable. If there’s no fight, no push back, then maybe, we can wind down the rhetoric and start actually listening to each other. There are tremendously important issues that we need to be talking to one another about and if we fight over something like whether to say Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays, we only make the divide larger and the conversations less likely.
You’re not going to change anyone’s mind by arguing.
However you celebrate the season, make it a good one.