Guest Column (12/23/09)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays — It’s the season of the bleeding heart

Dec. 23, 2009

By Edwin Cooney

About 10 days ago, someone sent me an e-mail (complete with attachment) showing Christmas trees with the insistence that “… These are Christmas trees, not Hanukkah Bushes, Holiday Trees or Allah Plants. These are Christmas Trees.”

OK, OK already — I hear you! I get it that you want to be wished a Merry Christmas. OK, “Merry Christmas” and may you have many more merry Christmases with trees and nativity scenes and Santa Clauses and all that good stuff! So, why all the fuss?

The answer is simple. Some politically-oriented “Christmas traditionalists,” convinced by those who insist that they hate “liberal victim-hood,” believe that Christmas has become the victim of deadly attack by left wing socialist secularists — of course. Hence, Christmas must be saved.

As for who will save Christmas? Why, patriotic Americans, that’s who! I know George Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson resisted celebrating Christmas back in the 18th century, seeing it as a “bloody British” holiday, but many facts are disconcerting. Even though Washington, Franklin and Jefferson didn’t much like Christmas, they can still be considered true patriots. They might even have preferred to wish you “happy holidays!”

The surface issue is, of course, old-fashioned religion, but the cause is good old-fashioned merchandising. Nothing wrong with it; it’s as genuinely American as apple or cherry pie. The sad part about it, however, is that it’s a culture war at Christmas time — nothing more! A “Merry Christmas wish” is good. A “Happy Holidays wish” is pretty close to evil.

Tell me true now: When you receive a Christmas greeting from JCPenney, Nordstrom, Chevron or your bank, don’t you feel warm and cuddly all over?

If someone wishes you “Merry Christmas” and someone else wishes you “Happy Holidays,” does either wish to do damage to your personal dignity, political freedom or religious beliefs? Are you incapable of having a Merry Christmas during your Happy Holidays?

Emotionally, I’m a traditionalist. I love Christmas and leave it to my sensibilities as to what degree I allow commercialism to affect me. I love Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Three Wise Men and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (my favorite Christmas carol alongside “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night”). I love the Christmas tree, the cookies and the Christmas punch. (Here, you can have my eggnog — drink all the eggnog you want — I’ll stick with the brandy.) I love Santa Claus, hugs and other possibilities under the mistletoe, but I don’t see the preservation of Christmas as a moral issue. Nor indeed should it be a political one.

Of course, no American institution as popular and profitable as Christmas can be entirely exempt from politics. However, as one who loves politics and many politicians, I’d like to see politicians and talk show hosts both on the right and the left take the season off. They should be home with their families generously imbibing and distributing Christmas and/or holiday cheer. Christmas is, after all, the season of the bleeding heart. To celebrate the Christmas season or holiday time is a free choice. I know government subsidizes Christmas by paying workers even when they’re on holiday, but shucks, private CEOs also get paid for doing exactly nothing on both Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Christmas is a season to give and to receive in joy, not in political resentment. (I know political resentment is a “joy” to both the left and the right, but some joys are more appropriate than others depending on the season). Christmas or holiday season is a time for love and laughter. If someone wants to refer to his or her tree as a Christmas tree, or as an Allah Tree or a Hanukkah Bush, how does that lessen the value of what I call my tree?

If Uncle Henry wants to call his evergreen tree his “Drinking Tree,” with good cheer, let him. Even better, join him under his “Drinking Tree” and have a hot chocolate if that’s what you want.

Let this holiday season be about goodwill and good wishes. Let it be about the comfort and satisfaction of others. Never mind either Christmas commercialism or religious pomposity. Allow others to be as secular or as religious as they choose. Forget about others’ attitudes in comparison to your own. Cheer their hopes, especially when their hopes are about them and not in the least about you. If someone wants to celebrate another religion or no religion, offer him or her your blessing.

How about this idea for a Christmas or holiday project: Offer everyone around you, regardless of their political or spiritual faith, the most splendid gift within your power to grant them. Extend to them and expect them to extend to you the willingness to be your friend.


Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.