Honestly, I’ve never been able to figure out the flap about saying “Happy holidays.” I know that there are Christians who want to say “Merry Christmas,” but I’m not convinced there’s much of a difference.
We certainly want the days to be happy, which is what the old word, “merry,” really means. And “holiday” is a version of “holy day,” and indeed, whatever we call them, these December days are holy. “Happy holidays” is also more inclusive; whether we are celebrating Christmas or Hanukah, we wish each other happy, blessed holy days.
The real issue is: What do we do with those days? How can we make them both happy and holy?
December is a challenging time full of busy days, parties to attend, gifts to buy, food to prepare and visitors to entertain. Most of those things are happy indeed, but too often there is just too much of it, and the holiness gets crowded out. So I thought I’d offer a short list of some things I’d like to do to make my holy days both happy and holy:
• Put on limits. I want to avoid the trap of “too much of a good thing.” This will start with my calendar; I vow to myself not to fill every day with places to go and people to see.
• Make time for silence. It has always seemed strange to me to walk through a busy mall and hear “Silent Night” accompanying frantic shopping. Really? I’d like to work in some quiet evenings with a good book and a dose of silence.
• Buy less, give more. Would it really hurt to buy one or two fewer gifts, and use the money to do some good in the world? I need to realize that there are lots of ways to love others, and the most important ones involve more time and attention than money. Maybe, rather than one more gift, I should give someone the gift of telling them how much they mean to me — to give them the gift of my love.
• Practice my faith. No matter what your religious tradition, there are certain common practices meant to deepen the season. Maybe it’s paying more attention to your prayer life, or reading scripture, or being more regular in worship. The holy days will mean so much more if we have taken the time for thoughtful preparation. In my tradition, that’s called Advent. We even try not to sing Christmas carols until Christmas, because we know we are not yet ready for them. Without preparation, the big days will come and go, and then we’ll wonder where they went.
• Pass down memories. Have you ever shared your Christmas or Hanukkah memories with your children or, if you don’t have children, with someone else’s? December is full of special memories. I wonder if I’ve ever told my children and grandchildren about the Christmas when my father and I stood in the snow in the freezing cold, looking at the crisp winter moon through my new telescope?
• Read the stories aloud. Gather those you love and read the Christmas story from Luke 2 — or, if you’re Jewish, tell them the amazing tale of Judas Maccabeus and his victory over Antiochus Epiphanes. It’s a great story!
Finally, let your holidays be happy and merry. Rediscover the joy of the One who loves you.