Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Greetings This Holy Season

I favor keeping “Christ in Christmas,” but I am not offended by those who wish me “Happy Holidays!”

According to a Wikepedia article, the expression “Happy Holidays” became a Christmas greeting in American English in a 1937 Camel cigarette advertisement.  Previously it had been used in British English in reference  to the summer-time break from school.

The word holiday came from the Old English term haeligdaeg which means “holy day.”  “Holiday” originally meant “holy day!” The term “holiday” then has religious origins if not religious connotations today.

And so, when I hear “Happy Holidays,” I think “Happy Holy Days,” and I find no reason to be offended. I suspect most people who use that “Holiday” greeting mean no offense, and even if they use “Christmas” in their greeting they probably are  not conscious of all that this term means.

 "Happy Holidays" can also include the Jewish Festival of Lights.

The Old English expression was Cristesmaesse describing the liturgical celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Middle English transformed the word into Cristemasse. Both terms meant “Christ’s Mass.” It is, so to speak,  liturgical language.

In the literal sense when we wish someone “Merry Christmas,” we express the hope that their “Christ Mass” may be agreeable or pleasing. The implication of the greeting (though clearly not intended by most who use the expression) is that one’s attendance at the Mass celebrating the birth of the Christ may be a pleasant experience.

Those who claim to know say that the greeting “Merry Christmas” was first used in an informal letter in 1699, and again in 1843 in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is the English way of expressing greetings in the observance of Christ’s birth.

It is curious, however, that most Europeans do not put the word “Christ” in their season’s greetings. Most of them are wishing others “Happy Nativity Day!” Such is the Italian Buon Natale, the French Joyeux Noel, the Spanish Feliz Navidad.

The Germans, of course, say something different: Frohe Weihnachten, Happy Holy Night. But I especially like the Hawaiian way: Mele Kalikimaka (the phonetic equivalent of the English “Merry Christmas”). Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters have helped me to accept and enjoy that version.

However it is expressed, whatever the language, the greeting during this holy day season acknowledges the most extraordinary event in human history: that time when God took on the human condition and, in the picturesque language of John’s Gospel, “pitched his tent among us!”

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Mele Kalikimaka!

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