As I listen to the radio, read various opinion articles, and view cable news programs, I have found that the seasonal greeting of Happy Holidays is a hot topic this year. Particularly, some say that Happy Holidays is a concession to political correctness. And, of course, this is true. Happy Holidays has come to replace the more antiquated Season’s Greetings in the marketplace as the accepted seasonal salutation. The primary reason for this choice is the motivation to avoid offending anyone who has a different religious preference. Happy Holidays, then, is supposed to accommodate Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and other groups, even the non-believers. In reality, Happy Holidays is a denial of the reason for the Christmas celebration. However, this phrase is not the real problem but only a symptom. Let me explain.
Many Christmas Carols offer a strong proclamation of the gospel. For example look at the last verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.
These words do not fit well with Happy Holidays or with political correctness. The baby Jesus is not particularly offensive to holiday celebrants. The offense occurs when the full earthly life of Christ is examined. This baby grew up to become a man who did what no other human being has ever done. He remained sinless and then endured the wrath of God in payment for the sins of his people. He then came back to life and defeated sin and death. There is nothing politically correct about this baby who grew up to be the only acceptable sacrifice for our sins. As a culture we have lost sight of the reason for the Christmas celebration.
Giving of gifts has come to be an act of social and economic atonement, following the spirit of Happy Holidays. Socially, gifts are given not only to show love, but to offer appeasement for insensitivity during the past year. Gifts are given to attempt to earn the gratitude or acceptance of others. Gifts are often given out a sense of obligation and expectation. Too often, gifts are given to make the giver happy, rather than the recipient. Economically, holiday gift giving has become the means of redemption for a battered economy. Most retailers would go out of business without holiday gift giving. As a culture we have taken the true joy of Christmas and replaced it with a celebration of ourselves and our way of life. Our culture has taken the wonder of God’s gift and made it into an idol that is served by man-centered, self-serving desires.
This is another area where Christians must avoid mixing biblical truth with cultural practice. When this mixture happens, idolatry is always the result. This is a good time consider what the giving of gifts should really be about. Many Christians will stretch their budgets to the breaking point in order to give the gifts they think they need to give. Others will experience a sense of guilt if they cannot afford the gifts they would like to give. Still others of us will know disappointment if we don’t receive the gift we are hoping for. These thoughts and actions come because the spirit of Happy Holidays has replaced the true joy of living in the light of God’s most precious gift to his people. So, even when you say Merry Christmas, you may actually mean Happy Holidays. This is the trap of our culture, the deception of the enemy: to mix truth and error and thus render the church ineffective in its witness. If we celebrate Christmas like the culture around us, we will have become like our culture.
This issue is important to address with your children. No, I am not suggesting that you take back all of the gifts you have already bought. What I am asking you to do is think carefully about why you give gifts and how you have transmitted this perspective to your children. Ephesians 1:8 says that the riches of God’s grace have been lavished on us. That is just as true on May 6 and August 13 as it is on December 25. Is this your reality? Do you live as though you have already received the most wonderful of all gifts? Is this the perspective on gifts that your children receive from you? You see, the way your children view giving and receiving gifts will tell you much about your own perspective on gift giving.
Christmas will come again next year. You have a whole year to consider whether Happy Holidays has come to dominate your reason for gift giving. If a shift in your perspective on gift-giving is in order, you have a whole year to make this change and to bring your children along with you. Happy Holidays is about what makes us happy–it is about a false sense of atonement. The gift of Christ Jesus to a lost world to save God’s people from their sins is the one true message of hope and redemption. Rejoicing in this perspective must be the reason that we give gifts at Christmas or any other time. Giving gifts to others should be and can be a very good thing, but we must always give in the light of what we have been given in Christ.
As always, let me know your thoughts.