If a friend who is not Christian wishes me a Merry Christmas they are acknowledging an important part of my life. Not only do I NOT dislike it, I appreciate that they took the time to remember something that is of such importance to me.
I find that as I grow older, many of the things I once took such a hard stand on, I no longer do. And some things I never gave a second thought to, now seem to hold an importance I didn't see before. For example, in past years, when we first started noticing that department stores stopped saying "Merry Christmas" and replaced it with the generic "Happy Holidays", I joined the chorus of those who protested, who were rather adamant that such a change was wrong. It's not, we argued, a "generic" season; it's Christmas
. I felt quite strongly about that, as I know many on this forum did as well.
This year, I find that after some thought and pondering, I have decided that I believe it's actually right that department store folks and most others, especially non-believers, say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." For the vast majority of them, they really don't mean "Merry Christmas" at all. What they mean is what your friends mean in your statement above: what they really mean is that they hope we have a merry time celebrating what it is that's important to us. And they probably mean that whether it be Hanakkah or Christmas or Eid al-Adha or whatever other holiday we or others might be celebrating.
And I agree that that's a sentiment we should appreciate. I too appreciate it when my non-Christian friends wish me a happy celebration of what I believe in. But I think I'd rather hear them wish me a Happy Holiday than that they wish me something I know they're not really wishing me.
So I guess you could say that this is one of those areas where I've become less stringent than I have been in the past. The way our society is today, I think it is more accurate and more honest for people to say "Happy Holidays" than to insist on them saying "Merry Christmas." And I think, as Catholics, that we should prefer that and encourage that versus letting "Merry Christmas" become just another generic term for people to use when they want to say "I hope you enjoy your celebration."
I didn't use to give the phrase "Merry Christmas" a second thought. When I grew up in my atheist household, we always said "Merry Christmas" and for years I never had any idea it had anything to do with a Person named Jesus. It was all about Santa and trees and Christmas presents. I guess you could say insisting on that phrase meaning something is one of those things that now seems important to me in a way it hasn't before.
Far more troubling to me than a genuine sentiment made by a non-Christian, is being wished a Merry Christmas by Christians who have divorced Jesus from their lives.
As with the increased tolerance of "Happy Holidays," here too, I find I've become more flexible and understanding than I've been in years past. When I first became a Catholic, I was surprised and somewhat appalled, as you may recall, to discover that most Catholics saw their faith as little more than "warmed over Marxism." Socialism. Their Jesus wasn't the Jesus I had learned about in reading Scriptures or studying the Faith. Their "Jesus" was more akin to the Marx and Marxists I'd studied. So disgusted with that "divorce of Jesus from their lives," I fled the Vatican II church altogether, as you may recall.
But I returned to my local parishes when my daughter became old enough to prepare for First Communion. And I've been attending predominantly Novus Ordo Masses since, most of them in these local parishes. Thus, I have spent the last 12 years hearing the kinds of homilies that my fellow Catholics have been hearing all their lives. In that time, I've heard very few homilies that had anything at all to do with Jesus, the real Jesus. Nearly all those homilies have been about how important it is to "love our neighbor" and "feed the poor" and "give to others." Nearly all those homilies have taught that what it means to be a Christian is to be a "good person" who "gives to others." And rare indeed is the homily that even implies that the most important thing they should be giving to others is the Faith, the Good News of our Salvation, made possible for us by Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, a sacrifice made in payment for our sins.
Father Sotelo pointed out in one of his recent posts in a different thread that most of the Hispanics who voted for Obama did so because the Democrats came into their community and told them that they, the Democrats, are the ones who are pro-life and who care for the poor. I hadn't known that and have been pondering it a great deal since reading it, in preparation for composing a new post to him. But the thing is, Effie, how can I continue to think they voted their own self-interest when what they may have actually done is exactly what they thought they were supposed to do?
Like you, I used to find it troubling as well - the way so many Catholics celebrate "Christmas" without Christ. But I don't find it so troubling any more. I think they are doing exactly what they've been taught to do all their lives, in homily after homily. They have been taught that Christmas is about giving stuff and that being a good Christian is about giving to others. That's what Christmas means to them. And so, they spend all year saving up their money so they can spend the months before Christmas running frantically from store to store to buy all the things they think those they love and those they don't love want and need.
I used to think it appalling the way most Catholics don't observe Advent anymore. It is no longer a penitential time. But then, just the other day, it occurred to me that I'm very wrong about that. They really do observe Advent though in an entirely different way. I was driving home listening to the radio and hearing a little piece about how stressful a time Christmas is for people today, all the gifts all the money all the shopping all the commercialization... It occurred to me that they are, in a way, doing a kind of penance. Offering up their time and money and sanity to do just what they've been told is the most important thing Christians are supposed to do, espeically at Christmas time: giving stuff to other people.
And so, I can't say that I share your opinion, Effie. I would like to see non-Christians not wish me something they don't believe in, but rather wish me a Happy Holiday, which is what they really mean. I appreciate their kindness and their tolerance. I just don't want the watering down of the phrase anymore. And I find myself having more and more compassion every day for my fellow Catholics whose only real error in regards to the Faith is trusting that what their priests have given them from the pulpit and in their RE classes is indeed what the Faith is. How many saints have taught us that obedience to our spiritual directors, even if they are wrong, means something to God? They are His flock and if in following their shepherds they have been led astray, I think our Lord will reward their obedience.