MARCO ISLAND — Two separate conversations sparked the idea for this column. One was with a Jewish man who was glad to see Hanukkah associated with Thanksgiving because Hanukkah is “not the Jewish Christmas,” and another with a Christian man who mused we don’t have to say “ ‘happy holidays’ now that Hanukkah is over.”
That got the Church Lady wondering. What do Christians mean when they say Merry Christmas? Has it become a secular greeting?
For Capri Christian Church member and retiree Barbara Cowden, Christmas greetings are not complicated. She typically greets someone with “Have a Merry Christmas or have a wonderful Christmas or have a beautiful Christmas.” She makes a point to always use the word Christmas.
“It is so important during this time of year that we remember and we celebrate the birth of Jesus,” wrote Cowden in an email. “He should be at the center of all that we do, whether it is this Christmas season or throughout out the year. God, our Father, loves each and every one of us so much and it is so important that people be reminded about the birth of His son, Jesus, and that this amazing gift from God means we can each experience a new life through his son, Jesus.”
San Marco Catholic Church’s Assistant Youth Minister Dorothy Flint, who with her husband, formerly served with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Bronx, N.Y. doesn’t use Christmas greetings during Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas. She instead observes the Octave of Christmas, Christmas Day and the seven days that follow.
“When people say ‘Merry Christmas’ no one is thinking about Jesus’ birth,” said Flint. “It has become too secular.”
She also doesn’t like the word merry as it sound too “Santa Clausy.”
“We should be keeping Christ in Christmas,” she said. She greets people strong in their faith with: “Christ’s blessing on his birthday or Christmas peace to you and your family.”
She reserves “hope you have a happy Christmas” for strangers and store clerks.
Goodland Baptist Church member Gaby Porter has lived in Marco and Goodland since 1964 feels strongly about using Merry Christmas and would never use the all-inclusive happy holidays. For her as with the others it’s all about Christ’s birth.
“All my family believe in God and they all say Merry Christmas,” she said. It is also about our county’s Christian heritage and she recalled the words “God shed his grace on thee” from “America the Beautiful.” Her brothers and father were all in the military and fought for our freedom.
She doesn’t want to see the word Christmas abolished in America. “It’s all about freedom of speech.”
Marco Presbyterian Church Elder Jim Garvin is an educator who feels blessed to live in a country where differences of opinion are welcome. However, he is sometimes confused when someone wishes him “Happy Holidays” and he wonders what holiday he or she is celebrating.
“Christmas is a wonderful time for Christians as we are celebrating one of the most important events in the history or the world; the birth of a savior through whom we are reconciled with God,” he said. “Christians ought to be merry and excited. It’s a time to experience the supernatural, the saving grace of Christ.”
For Garvin, a Christmas greeting begins a respectful conversation, sharing what he believes, while entering into and understanding the other person’s point of view.
Jewish Congregation of Marco Island member Bert Thompson is not offended when someone wishes him a Merry Christmas.
“Our Torah tells us to be respectful of all religions,” he said. Depending on the situation he’ll mention that he celebrates Hanukkah and say, “I truly pray that this will be a peaceful time so you can enjoy the holiday” or “may you truly enjoy the time of peace that comes with your holiday.”
He also recalled with a twinkle in his eye how as a child in an Orthodox Jewish household gathering and wrapping Christmas gifts with his father and leaving them at St. Michael’s Orphanage in New Jersey. “No one ever knew who the gifts were from,” he said.
Part-time Marco residents Howard and Mary Lang also focused on peace. The Lang’s are members of Willow Creek Church in Illinois and attend Marco’s New Life Community Church.
Howard rarely says Merry Christmas preferring “enjoy the holiday” or “have a great family time.” He tries to gear the greeting to the listener. To a Jewish or Muslim friend he might say “blessings and peace to you and your family.” As a lawyer and estate planner, he knows first hand that families are complicated. “We are all looking for blessings and peace in our families,” he mused. “And we are all children of Abraham.”
Howard is also the founder and a director of the Arab-American Bar Association and explained that peace is “shalom” in Hebrew and “salem” in Arabic.
Mary prefers to include a blessing in her greetings, such as “may God bless you and your family.” Merry Christmas, for her, has become rather trite, akin to “have a nice day.”
She frequently says, “may Christ enrich your holiday” which often leads to a short conversation. Mary wants everyone to experience the peace at Christmas “that we experience through the Prince of Peace.”
Peace to you and yours this Christmas, Kathleen