Holiday Greetings!!!! Or Not???? ~ The Rt. Rev. M. R. Beckett, OPI


Happy Holidays?????  When I was a kid, way back in the dark ages, I always thought that “Happy Holidays” meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”  Apparently I was a tad bit under informed……..  So once again, here we go……….

It’s that time of year again.  The time for all and sundry to argue the finer points of holiday greetings:  Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays.  At the risk of being seen as a non-Christian priest, or a politically correct one, and abandoning or at least not defending my faith and my Lord, I feel compelled for some odd reason, to offer a treatise on the use of Happy Holidays.  So here goes….

“Happy Holidays.”  Now really, what’s wrong with that?  It’s a pleasant wish that encompasses good wishes for an entire month and a half long season.  Granted, that “season” is usually meant to be the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and is usually understood to include only Christmas and New Year’s Day.   However, in that time period, what other holidays are there?  “Happy Holidays” is a collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, the New Year and Epiphany, and it would take me forever to get through the list, if I could remember the list at all, just to give a pleasant hello to someone!  “Happy Holidays” is just easier!  Most of the aforementioned holidays ARE Christian holidays, though, so what’s wrong with “Happy Holidays?”

Leaving those “Happy Holidays” that are in the Christian calendar for a few minutes; let’s look at the ones that aren’t Christian holidays.

The Winter Solstice, or Yule, is celebrated by our Wiccan and Pagan brothers and sisters.   This is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, the sun’s “rebirth” was celebrated with much joy.  It is from this celebration that we get many, many of our Christmas traditions.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by some of our African American brothers and sisters and is not a substitute for Christmas, nor is it a religious holiday.  Wishing someone a happy Kwanzaa does nothing to deny Christianity.

Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, celebrating a miracle that occurred way back in the 2nd century BCE.  Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt.  The story of Hanukkah is alluded to in the book of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, but Hanukkah is not specially mentioned; rather, a story similar in character, and obviously older in date, is the one alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18,  according to which the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah was due to a miracle which occurred on the 25th of Kislev, and which appears to be given as the reason for the selection of the same date for the rededication of the altar by Judah Maccabee.  Now, 1 and 2 Maccabees are not considered canonical books by most Protestants, but are included in the Apocrypha, which IS in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles.  So while Hanukkah is not a Christian holiday, per se, it can be considered Biblical.  And since it celebrates the lighting of the rededication of the Temple and is celebrated with lights, and Christ is “the Light of the World,” and the fact that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends!

The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, which is celebrated in the Commonwealth countries.  The tradition of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to those who are needy and in service positions, and this European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages.  Shouldn’t we, as Christians, do this year-round, and not just during the “holidays”?

New Years Day:  Now, there’s a pagan holiday for you!  The Romans dedicated this day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward.  It is from this Roman custom that we get the making of New Year’s resolutions:  looking backward, we resolve to not do something or other, and looking forward, we resolve TO do something or other.  Among the 7th century pagans of Flanders and the Netherlands, it was the custom to exchange gifts at the New Year.  So, I guess I’m asking, should we as Christians NOT celebrate the new year and not wish everyone a “Happy New Year”?  If this is the case, then we should certainly avoid making New Year’s resolutions, too. (Especially those that include diets and exercise!)

And then, there are the religious holidays that most Christians don’t really celebrate, and some don’t even know about.  The Feast of Saint Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr on 26 December, the Feast of St. John who was the “Beloved Disciple” on 27 December, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 8 December, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December have already been mentioned.

Finally, there is Epiphany, which is perhaps one of the most important holidays of the liturgical or church year.  It is the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas of which we sing in the (often-denigrated) Christmas carol, and which is overlooked by most non-liturgical churches.  Epiphany, which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.  Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.  The early Christian Fathers fixed the date of the feast on January 6.  Ancient liturgies noted Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration) taken from  Matthew 3:13–17; Luke 3:22; and John 2:1–11; where the Baptism and the Marriage at Cana were dwelt upon. Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the “Revelation to the Gentiles” mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him.  In this event, Christian writers also inferred a revelation to the Children of Israel. Saint John Chrysostom identified the significance of the meeting between the Magi and Herod’s court: “The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way, the birth of Jesus would be made known to all.”  The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus.   St. Epiphanius says that January 6 is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ’s “Birthday; that is, His Epiphany”).  He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day, and it was on this day, too, that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  So on 6 January, after all the Christmas trimmings have been put away, the gifts exchanged, New Years resolutions have been made (and some broken already), and the kids are back in school, we can still say, with all feeling, “Happy Holidays.”

Honestly, don’t you think “Happy Holidays” is so much easier?  And besides, I really like Bing Crosby’s Christmas carol, “Happy Holidays!”

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