Every December now for about a decade, we have asked the Jackson Free Press staff members to sign hundreds of holiday greeting cards that we send to freelancers, advertising clients, sources, and other friends and acquaintances of the JFP. We have a local artist or one of our designers provide the cover illustration and always say inside: "The Jackson Free Press wishes you peace and prosperity in the New Year."
There's a lot said in that short message (that co-founder Stephen Barnette came up with, I believe), and it allows us to continue sending the cards after Christmas. (Yes, some of you may yet get yours.)
Inevitably, staff members groan a bit when the cards show up from the printer, but these cards have become an annual way for our locally owned company to show our appreciation in a very personal way. They also require a bit of what I enjoy the most about the holiday season: the need to slow down and take time to thank those who have helped us. It's kind of old-fashioned, really.
Fortunately, no one has ever complained (at least to our faces) about the card wishing the recipient "Happy Holidays" on the front. That greeting is very much by design, and it has nothing to do with a so-called "attack on Christmas." In fact, it has everything to do with tolerance.
You see, not all of our freelancers, advertisers, sources, and other friends and acquaintances are Christian (think lovely Lisa Palmer of Summerhouse, a Jewish entrepreneur who sends out New Year's greetings). Not all of them celebrate Christmas, and many of them choose other spiritual traditions in December and January. As a business that relies on diversity for growth and survival, why would we choose to limit our greeting to only a portion of our readers? It doesn't make sense.
Besides the basic business reasoning, though, let's take this a bit deeper. Why should we use the word Christmas instead of "holidays" on a greeting card, Christian or not? Do we really think that freaking out over the use of a more inclusive word somehow makes one a stronger Christian and more likely to get past the pearly gates?
I don't claim to have insider knowledge on it, but I'm guessing such ridiculous (and political) temper tantrums might have the opposite effect. The maker might glance over us and think, "Why did you waste all that time on a tempest in a teapot when you could have been performing good works on my behalf?"
And who could seriously argue that substituting a tolerant, inclusive word in situations where you might not be talking to a Christian is somehow a slight to Christianity? Come on: In America, we have nearly drowned every spiritual component of this holiday in a sea of commercialism starting at Thanksgiving and usually ending the second we open all the presents and gobble up the turkey (rather than in a reverent, joyful way on the 12th night of Christmas: Jan. 5, known as Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, the day that commemorates the Wise Men visiting the baby Jesus and his baptism by John the Baptist. See page 12.).
Not to mention, many of the Christmas traditions that the complainers embrace were taken from secular and pagan traditions, or are a hybrid at best. Take Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas: the Santa our kids await is a mashup of Christian saintdom, a pagan figure and Cola-Cola's corporate colors, making him the jolly fellow he is today. And the Christmas (or Yule) tree? More religious-pagan hybridization. And the Yule-Christmas list goes on.
My point is not to scare Christians away from Santa and your Christmas tree with these oft-forgotten or unknown facts: It's to point out how ridiculous the "attack on Christmas" pundits are. Folks, these people are not about preserving the sanctity of Christmas; they are about dividing people. And they are promoting intolerance.
What is so wonderful about the holiday season to me is exactly the shared event that it has become: not only between friends and family, but between cultures. I loved making our Muslim intern's day with her quirky gift bag (yes, with a Santa image on it), and I was delighted when my Jewish co-worker brought a little green dreidel (a Hanukkah top) to my tree-trimming party in New York City.
The dreidel goes on my hanging Christmas ring every year alongside a glass pickle, a miniature Barbie, a tiny Pope and a glass cross. To me, it symbolizes the togetherness we can all achieve despite disparate beliefs.
Every spiritual tradition worth its salt is about loving and helping other people, regardless of their differences. Sure, try to influence them toward your tradition with good works and by example if you want, but trying to cut them out of your annual greeting is the height of absurdity. I would go as far as saying that you are making a mockery out of your spiritual tradition when you go along with making a caricature out of something so serious and powerful: inclusiveness.
I remember as a teenager back in the 1970s first hearing about Christmas being "under attack." Back then, well before squawkers on cable TV, anonymous blogs and rant-radio started to use public airwaves to make us hate each other 24 hours a day, the "attack" was the use of an X instead of the "Christ" in the word as a shortening device. "It's taking Christ out of Christmas!" the ladies at the beauty shop where I shampooed hair would complain bitterly.
Guess what? They had no idea what they were talking about (and I'd guess knew little of the Pagan origins of some of our Christmas traditions, either). You see, the "X," or the Greek letter chi, is the first letter of the Greek word Xristos, translated as "Christ." That is, the use of "Xmas" is arguably much more Christian than putting up a Christmas tree.
Of course, the real message here is how silly and distracting all this manufactured crisis is in a time when people need to be figuring out how to get along. There are those who make money off dividing us and others who just get their jollies by spreading hatefulness. Attacking well-meaning efforts at promoting tolerance through the use of two words like "Happy Holidays" is simply a way to make us distrust and mistreat others.
And there ain't nothin' admirable--or Christian--about such a game. Put that in your card and mail it.