'Merry Christmas' versus 'Happy holidays' - a war of words

Whether there's a war on Christmas has become something of a war of words between the use of "Merry Christmas" or "Happy holidays" this year.

From generic shopping ads to community events labeled merely "festivals" to how store clerks greet their customers, the debate has escalated over the reason for the season.

For some Christians in Carson City, the vague references miss the point that Christmas is about Christ - His birth in a manger when there was no room at the inn, when three wise men brought gifts of frankincense and myrrh and peasants gathered in awe of the miracle child.

Ken Haskins, pastor of First Christian Church in Carson City, said he prefers to hear Merry Christmas.

"To me, 'Happy holidays' doesn't say much," Haskins said. "I can see where some merchants probably use it to try to be inclusive and to save money on their advertising. They can start with Thanksgiving and go all the way to the New Year by saying happy holidays.

"Why are people so ashamed of Christmas? It may be because it contains the word Christ? I have yet to figure that out.

"Christ is the personification of love, serving people, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. The fact they're offended by Him is offensive to me."

The debate continues amongst private citizens, business owners and government entities across the country. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert determined that the lighted, decorated tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol should no longer be known as the "Holiday Tree." He renamed it the "Capitol Christmas Tree," this year.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made the same decision about California's tree last year.

The Capitol tree in Carson City has, as far back as is recorded, always been called a Christmas tree, according to organizer Maxine Nietz.

"We've got homeless people in this city, it's cold outside, a day shelter that may close soon, children and families and single parents are barely making it," said Father Jerry Hanley from St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Community. "Churches and people I know are working as hard as they can to make sure during the whole year these people are taken care of - people in need.

"If someone says to me, 'Happy holidays,' I take it as a blessing. Or Happy Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, I take it as a blessing. The people I know and see are trying to wish others well and they're not getting caught in the semantics of words.

"This (time) is about when a child came to teach us about weakness and salvation and to be the brother and sister to the world. To bring life where there is no hope.

"Hearing Merry Christmas or happy holidays or happy Hanukkah is better than war in half the world. The angels said, 'Peace on Earth, good will to men.' Wouldn't that be nice?"

One origin of the word holiday comes from Old English words 'halig,' meaning holy, and 'daeg,' meaning day. The other, of British origin, means vacation.

"When a person says 'Happy holidays,' it is appropriate to say 'Holy Day' to you, too," Bruce Kochsmeier, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Carson City, said.

"It could also be Happy Kwanzaa, and the Jewish would say, 'Happy Hanukkah.' What I hear from the majority is, the season is really Christmas.

"My take is, if you're African American and someone says 'Happy holidays' to you, you say 'Happy Kwanzaa.' There's nothing wrong with being particular about your distinction. Or if you're Hispanic and someone says, 'Merry Christmas,' you can say 'Feliz Navidad.' We're all so very different."

Kochsmeier said businesses should let employees (greetings) be specific to who they are.

"It's the greatness of what this country is about," Kochsmeier said. "We have freedom from any particular faith being imposed on us by the government, and at the same time, our Constitution allows us freedom of religion."

Jennifer Ortega, spokesperson for Raley's in West Sacramento, Calif., said the store does not have a specific policy on using greetings with its customers.

"We leave it up to the employees to use their own judgment," Ortega said. "They know their customers best."

"The notion it's demeaning to say 'Happy holidays,' not knowing if the person you're talking to is Christian, is not really a problem to me," said Rabbi Jonathan Freirich from Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe.

Freirich also said he is not offended by people saying Merry Christmas.

"I wear a Jewish sign on the back of my head (a yamaka). I say, 'Happy holidays' in return.

"But for some of these right-wing Christians to say there is somehow a war on Christmas when five out of six people are Christian, it's hardly fair."

-- Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.


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