It's a Festivus Miracle!
November 18, 2005 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Sincere, if naive, greeting question: May a Christian wish an Non-theist a Merry Christmas?

I was intrigued by a comment in the PC language FPP regarding Christians' fears of a PC backlash to their religious greeting. I know there are many Non-Christian, Non-theist and Agnostic MetaFilter readers and this seems a good forum to find out how that phrase is received.

How would/do you respond to being wished a Merry Christmas? Do you have an alternative seasonal greeting you'd rather give or receive?
posted by klarck to Writing & Language (84 answers total)
 
On Christmas Day, I don't see why you can't wish anybody a Merry Christmas. You're saying that you hope they enjoy the day, which you happen to call Christmas. Anybody who gets offended by it, clearly takes the entire world too seriously. At least as far as I'm concerned :)
posted by antifuse at 4:51 AM on November 18, 2005


Incidentally, I consider myself to be agnostic... so it's not like I'm some Christian telling non-Christians to calm the crap down. I celebrate Christmas because I like giving/receiving presents and eating turkey every year :)
posted by antifuse at 4:53 AM on November 18, 2005


Yes, unless the non-theist is a complete asshole. In my humble, of course.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:54 AM on November 18, 2005


I say nothing back to note that I don't celebrate. I hate hearing Merry Christmas, but that just may be because I hate the whole hoopla over the holiday.

But seriously, if you know someone doesn't celebrate, don't say anything -- why do you need to say something at all? If you don't know, then sure say it. Just don't expect it said back to you.
posted by evening at 4:54 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist, and if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I take it in the spirit in which I assume it is said: a nice person wishing me well and hoping that I enjoy the overall season. If the person has an ulterior motive - say, hoping that I receive the gift of eternal life through his personal savior - then such hidden meaning is completely meaningless and lost in the simple utterance of "Merry Christmas." As I said, I take it in the spirit in which it is offered: best wishes during this holiday season.

No offense taken.
posted by davidmsc at 5:04 AM on November 18, 2005


I like Christmas. I'm Christian. But I do get sick of the "Merry Christmas" bit. But I get sick of all such canned sayings with prescribed responses. On futher thought, it is the custom of "Happy New Year" which MUST be said to every person, first time you see them that year, that really drives me up the wall.
posted by Goofyy at 5:06 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist. I hold very strong anti-religion opinions as well. That said, I think it would be absurd for an non-theist to be offended by someone wishing him/her a "Merry Christmas". Assuming the non-theist lives in the U.S., s/he's going to have to get used living in a culture that celebrates a holiday that is now primarily a capitalist/consumer holiday. The religious aspects are secondary here in the states.

When someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas", I'm happy. They're attempting to be nice. They're being friendly. You can't have enough of that.
posted by tom_g at 5:06 AM on November 18, 2005


I spend a lot of time with people who are have non-Christian religions, and generally just say Happy Holidays. Thus, one can express the sentiment without tying it to a particular religion that the hearer might not believe in.
posted by pollystark at 5:09 AM on November 18, 2005


Atheist/agnostic here, and I think it's absurd to be offended by someone wishing a Merry Christmas. I do get offended by the rampant commercialism and the assumption by stores and employers that everyone celebrates it (personally I would rather my two weeks off at a completely different time of year), but from a friend/acquaintance I am perfectly fine with taking the greeting in the spirit it was intended.
posted by arcticwoman at 5:13 AM on November 18, 2005


Christmas is the least religion-based "religious holiday" I can think of. I think an atheist would only be as likely as any Joe
Christian to be fatigued of hearing "merry xmas" all the time.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:17 AM on November 18, 2005


If you're the cheery sort who wishes all and sundry a Merry Christmas, you're gonna run into the occasional crank who will pontificate at great length about how offended they are and "freedom of religion means freefom from religion" and all that. If you make the mistake of wishing a Merry Christmas to a stranger who decides to take it as an opportunity to school you on the separation of church and state, just smile and nod, and when they're done, tell them you'll pray for them. (Kidding.) (But I did that once and the results were hilarious. The guy's face turned purple.)
posted by Gator at 5:23 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist, and I'm fine with "Merry Christmas." It's the "have a nice day" for that period after Thanksgiving-- it means nothing.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:32 AM on November 18, 2005


Another atheist here, no problem with "Merry Christmas." Or "Happy Hanukah" for that matter, if that's the holiday you observe. Hell, I celebrate Christmas. There's an entire non-theistic tradition that's sprung up around it, in case you hadn' t noticed. I do get a little peeved when I hear the overly politically correct "Happy Holidays," but that's just my inner grinch talking. I'd certainly try to take it in the spirit in which it's intended.
posted by zanni at 5:32 AM on November 18, 2005


If you're into the whole "religious tolerance" thing, you shouldn't be offended by someone wishing you a Merry Christmas or any number of other religious holidays, Christian or otherwise. I'm an atheist, myself, and I can't stand it when people get their panties collectively bunched when someone should feel the need to express their religious convictions.

If you feel repressed if someone wishes you Merry Christmas, you need to go live in the forest and knit yourself a hair-shirt. No offense intended. :)
posted by thanotopsis at 5:44 AM on November 18, 2005


I always liked this certain subscription to logic:

You do not have a right to not be offended.

On the other hand, I'm a Christian, although not-so-practicing, but it's refreshing to see a great deal of atheists and the like talking about how much fuss is made over something so ridiculous.

It's not as if this is a new concept here. It's simply that people are altering their bounds of what they feel they should be offended by.
posted by disillusioned at 5:49 AM on November 18, 2005


i wished an american jew happy christmas in the uk a few years ago and he looed at me scornfully and said "i'm a jew".

i'm an atheist. wtf?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2005


What about a non-Christian theist i.e. a Jew or a Muslim? Is it OK to tell some Hasidic Jew you see on the subway Merry Christmas?
posted by alidarbac at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2005


I actually hate it when people try to figure out what to say to appease me. Just say your intentions. Merry Christmas is just a nice greeting. Seasons Greetings is just as fine. If by "Merry Christmas" you're trying to elicit a negative response from me then I'll ignore your intent.
posted by substrate at 5:54 AM on November 18, 2005


Is this Christian living in America, or Saudi Arabia? If the former, they can wish them a happy Jesus-was-born-and-died-for-your-sins day if they want. If the latter, anticipate thumbscrews shortly thereafter.
posted by vanoakenfold at 5:55 AM on November 18, 2005


What about a non-Christian theist i.e. a Jew or a Muslim? Is it OK to tell some Hasidic Jew you see on the subway Merry Christmas?

I thnk it should be obligatory. I go out of my way to wish non-christians that I can identify by their dress a merry christmas.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:57 AM on November 18, 2005 [1 favorite]


I'm not an atheist, but I wonder what your motivation would be for wishing Merry Christmas to someone who you know doesn't celebrate it. I don't mean that it would be offensive, it just wouldn't really seem to make sense. It might be like going around on your own birthday wishing happy birthday to everyone or something. No one would be offended, but it just wouldn't really make sense. I'm sure most people in the US who are not visibly identifiable as a non-Christmas celebrator have come to expect it. I am visibly identifiable as a non-Christian and am continually fascinated by people who wish me Merry Christmas, and my heartstrings are tugged by people who try to be extra polite by wishing me Happy Holidays because they've been informed that whoever doesn't celebrate Christmas celebrates some other holiday during the holiday season. They're all being friendly, so there's no need to be offended. I just don't get it, though.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:03 AM on November 18, 2005


I think that if someone is identifyably Jewish/Muslim, you are only going out of your way to be obnoxious if you tell them Merry Christmas (unless it just slips out, as Mayor Curley said, it's the "have a nice day of the after American Thanksgiving period). Of course, if you don't know them well and wish them a Happy Chanukah, you could be accused of being pretentious.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:06 AM on November 18, 2005


Extrapolated for all potential meaning, wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" is telling them that you hope that they not only enjoy the holiday, but that they experience all of the soul-abiding hope and wonder that is part and parcel of the birth of Jesus Christ in Christian theology.

But for the most part, few people wish you "Merry Christmas" with that much of a religious payload behind it. When said by co-workers or the cashier at a coffee shop, it means only what they intend it to mean: Have a nice holiday. When said by friends and family, it means maybe a little more: I (personally) want you to enjoy your holiday. In other words, these are the "tidings of comfort and joy" referred to in various carols.

What "Merry Christmas" is not is an actual witness of faith or a testimony. There are exceptions, I suppose, but I think we'd be hard pressed to find anyone that wishes "Merry Christmas" with the intent or desire to actually convert the unchurched.

(Though I can certainly imagine someone coming up with a seasonal homily based on a simple dialogue of "Merry Christmas!" "What's Christmas?" "Well, let me tell you all about the Baby Jesus ...")
posted by grabbingsand at 6:06 AM on November 18, 2005


The only atheists truly offended by the phrase "Merry Christmas" are the ones the religious right invent so that they have something to get all pissed off about. Go nuts with it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:08 AM on November 18, 2005


It might be like going around on your own birthday wishing happy birthday to everyone or something.

I do that.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:11 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist. I agree that only an asshole would ACT offended by something meant to be kind and friendly. To be honest, it sometimes is hard being an atheist in a mostly theistic world. For instance, when I'm upset about something and people say they'll "pray for me," I KNOW they mean well -- and I would NEVER say anything mean to them -- but it's not helpful. And I feel like, out of politeness, I have to put on a show of being grateful, even though I'm dealing with a death in the family (or whatever) at the time.

But that's just reality. We atheists ARE a minority. We either need to deal with the fact that people won't always think about our atheism or we need to live a life of continual conflict. I try to think of it as if I'm an American living in a foreign country. If I lived in, say, Israel, it would be shitty of me to get pissed off if people wished me "Happy New Year" on the Jewish New Year.

Speaking of Jews. I know this doesn't answer your question, but you might want to be careful about saying "Merry Christmas" to Jews. I know that there are plenty of Jews who are fine with it -- there are even Jews who celebrate Christmas as a secular, gift-giving holiday. But there are some Jews who consider it a Christian-only holiday, and they do get offended.

My dad is in this group. As a child, I used to get really tired of the Scroogelike rages he would fly into whenever someone wished him a merry xmas or sent him an xmas card. (He's a polite man and never did this to their faces.) As I got older and learned about his past, I came to understand why he felt that way. He was a child in London during WWII. He was one of just a couple of Jews in his school, and he was continually picked on by the Christian children AND the teachers. England doesn't separate church and state, and each school day would start with prayers. My dad swears that the headmaster would say, "Now we will all pray -- except for the dirty little Jewish boys who will wait outside."

When I was in college, living in the dorms, some group wanted to spend dorm "activity" money (to which we all contributed) on xmas decorations. This sparked a HUGE debate, because some of the Jews got offended. The range of opinions were as follows:

-- I'm a Jew and I don't want my money spent on a Christian ritual.
-- I'm a Christian and I don't consider Christmas a Christian ritual -- it's a secular holiday.
-- Well, I'm an atheist, and I DO consider it a Christian ritual.
-- (Geeky guy, speaking in a sort of "Comic Book Guy" voice): Actually, it's a pagan holiday which was co-opted by the early christians.
-- Yeah, well. It's Christian now.
-- What's the big deal? It's just a decorated TREE?
-- How about if we buy a menorah, too?
-- NO! We shouldn't buy ANY religious stuff. If people want to be religious, can do so privately in their own rooms and use their own money.
-- But the whole point of Christmas is everyone sharing in it together.
-- I don't want to share in it.
-- Look. Let's just vote on it. Make it a majority thing.
-- That's not fair. We Jews will always be a minority. A PERSECUTED minority.
-- Well, whether we get a tree or not, you guys have ruined Christmas for me. It was supposed to be fun. Now it's turned into a big argument.

Isn't it fun to live in such a complicated world?
posted by grumblebee at 6:14 AM on November 18, 2005


Well everyone celebrate's Faint of Butt's birthday.
posted by leapingsheep at 6:15 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist and so are most of my friends, and I don't know a single one of us who doesn't celebrate Christmas, much less care if someone extends holiday greetings.
posted by nev at 6:17 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm agnostic, and not only am I not offended by "Merry Christmas", I say it to people. It's not always a conscious choice, but as people have said, it's the Decemberish equivalent of "Have a nice day".

I think I do it because Christmas as celebrated by much of North American society generally, and my family and friends specifically, is not so much a Christian celebration as an excuse to spend too much on presents, drink too much wine, and occasionally make out with my cousin.
posted by flipper at 6:17 AM on November 18, 2005


I go every Christmas to midnight mass with my inlaws at their church...


...their Unitarian church.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:18 AM on November 18, 2005


Optimus Chyme:"The only atheists truly offended by the phrase "Merry Christmas" are the ones the religious right invent so that they have something to get all pissed off about. Go nuts with it."

You're absolutely right. Including myself and my wife, I am friends with 16 atheists - strong atheists. Not one of them would be the least bit offended by someone wishing them a "merry christmas".

There are things about xmas I don't like (uber-consumerism and waste, for example). But a little seasonal cheer can't possibly offend the non-theist.
posted by tom_g at 6:19 AM on November 18, 2005


I think I'm just going to go around saying, "Faint of Butt" to people today.
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2005


I worked on the phones for a large catalog retailer for many years, and in my experience the phrase "I hope you have a wonderful holiday" is the only phrase that doesn't get someone upset. Its more personal than "Happy Holidays" and encapsulates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and even school holidays. I'll still say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" or whatever to people I know who celebrate a certain holiday, but the other phrase is what I use most in other, random situations.
posted by anastasiav at 6:36 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an agnostic (raised catholic) sliding towards atheism more and more every day. When someone says "merry christmas" I take it in the spirit in which it is intended, but I always feel I need to say something back. Since there's no way I'll return the same sentiment, I fire back with, "happy new year," since the two phrases are often seen together in public.
posted by friarjohn at 6:44 AM on November 18, 2005


Considering that Christmas is not actually Christian but is really the feast day of Sol Invictus (Natalis Invicti), I think the ones who should be most upset by xmas cheer are devout Christians.

I usually send out Kwanzaa cards to everyone around the end of the year.
posted by meehawl at 6:48 AM on November 18, 2005


"The only atheists truly offended by the phrase 'Merry Christmas' are the ones the religious right invent so that they have something to get all pissed off about. Go nuts with it."

Amen. :)

Also an atheist. If you know or can tell someone's religious affiliation (or explicit non-affiliation), say something that's appropriate to them. Otherwise, just say "Merry Christmas".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:53 AM on November 18, 2005


I am an atheist. A strong atheist. Man, am I annoyed and saddened by religion.

However, the only problems I have with being wished a merry Christmas is a) too many people capitalize merry for no reason and b) stock phrases like this always annoy me. Anyone offended by this who wasn't routinely sodomized with a Christmas tree as a child is probably just an asshole.
posted by fidelity at 7:02 AM on November 18, 2005


I suppose this is in the US because I've never seen people upset about Christmas references in Europe. Christmas has nothing much religious about it anyway.

But I also much prefer to say and hear "happy holidays", not because of any religious implications, just because to me beneath the "Merry Christmas" carries an implied message like "good luck surviving the eve shopping madness and the family reunion with relatives you hate and their annoying kids and crap presents you'll have to fake liking and all that food and drinking, the best I can wish you is not to have a monster hungover the day after", whereas "Happy Holidays" is more in the spirit of "I hope you have a nice trip planned to get away from it all and have some actual fun".

Happy holidays everyone!
posted by funambulist at 7:14 AM on November 18, 2005


A good friend (who is an atheist) of mine goes around on Christmas wishing people "Happy Nothing Day!". So far, no one has tried to murder him. Many people laugh. I think it's much nicer than another friend of mine (who is not an atheist) who likes to use the day to tell Christians that Jesus was probably born in March.
posted by weirdoactor at 7:17 AM on November 18, 2005


it's not even thanksgiving yet ... sigh ... i suppose a rude person could always say "bah, humbug"

it wouldn't be so annoying if people didn't make so much of it ... i'm not an atheist, but hearing xmas music and seeing santa at the mall last weekend struck me as slightly ridiculous

xmas has been hopelessly corrupted as a holiday and i don't see why anyone should have religious scruples about it because the zillions of advertisers who bombard us with thoughtless, mercenary messages sure don't have any
posted by pyramid termite at 7:18 AM on November 18, 2005


Yes, unless the non-theist is a complete asshole.

The wonderchicken is right, as he so often is, except when he's wrong, and this isn't one of those times.

Chalk me up as another atheist who can't understand why anyone would get offended by a well-meant greeting (except people like grumblebee's dad, hopefully a small and shrinking minority, and those who were routinely sodomized with a Christmas tree as a child).
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist, and the greeting doesn't get under my skin.
posted by cmonkey at 7:38 AM on November 18, 2005


I feel it's no more offensive than someone from a foreign land greeting me with a native greeting. In other words, it's not offensive at all. It's who they are.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:40 AM on November 18, 2005


Oh, and by the way, as an atheist myself, I have to deal with Christians 365 days of the year, including my own minister father. One more day does not bother me.

Additionally, as long as you actually mean well by telling me Merry Xmas, I will take it well. I know that people that say "merry Christmas" are being friendly, just like telling me "happy birthday" or "have a nice weekend" it is not offensive.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:59 AM on November 18, 2005


Christmas is a Christian holiday now? Since when?

(And I'm a Hindu and it doesn't bug me at all.)
posted by chunking express at 8:05 AM on November 18, 2005


I say, "Thank you. Happy solstice to you too."
posted by ottereroticist at 8:09 AM on November 18, 2005


Person-to-person I don't think it's worth being concerned about. For an institution or organization to use it on published materials or advertising, I'm disappointed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:15 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm not an atheist, but I wonder what your motivation would be for wishing Merry Christmas to someone who you know doesn't celebrate it. I don't mean that it would be offensive, it just wouldn't really seem to make sense. It might be like going around on your own birthday wishing happy birthday to everyone or something. No one would be offended, but it just wouldn't really make sense.

I have to agree with that. I am an atheist, and I certainly would never be offended by someone wishing me a merry Christmas, but I would inwardly roll my eyes a bit. I guess it's mostly the "stock phrase" thing.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2005


Atheist here. I respond to Merry Christmas just about the same way I respond to Bless You. People are just being polite, and wishing you well. Totally not offensive, and I just respond with secular 'Happy Holidays'. (Of course, the fact that I loathe the holidays doesn't enter into the conversation - it's not the time or place.)
posted by Space Kitty at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2005


Doesn't bother me, but I always figured the more generic greetings were not so much out of respect for people's right to not celebrate Christmas, but out of respect for their choice to celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or whatever they choose. It kind of sucks that Christmas is the "default" holiday. It depends on the situation, obviously, but I know that at work, when my standard "have a good night" changes for a month, it sure doesn't change to Merry Christmas.
I'm not a very good atheist, anyway. I'm just one of those people who never really talks about god, and never thinks much about it, either.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:19 AM on November 18, 2005


LeapingSheep nails it for me. I'm Jewish, so I don't celebrate Christmas, but when somebody wishes me "Merry Christmas," they're wishing me happiness. There are plenty of things in this world that piss me off, but being wished happiness is not one of them.

That said, while I'm grateful for any good wishes, there's always a tiny bit of bonus gratitude for somebody who takes the time to craft them in a way that's appropriate to my religious beliefs. If you know I'm Jewish, "Happy Hanukah" is nice. If not, I've always liked, "Merry Christmas, if appropriate," but it takes a certain wry delivery for that to come across as good-natured and not stiff. "Happy holidays" always struck me as a little bland, but, again, we're quibbling over various ways for you to wish me happiness. It's hard to go wrong with that kind of sentiment, no matter how you express it.

That said, I do object to the notion that Christmas is a secular holiday. For about one-third of the world's population, it represents the birthday of their God's incarnation in human form. It's hard to get more sacred than that, and to insist that it's secular is to disrespect something that two billion people hold sacred...

...although here in the UK, the notion that it's a secular holiday is certainly widespread. Last year, a Muslim friend of mine wished me Merry Christmas and couldn't understand why I thought that was so funny.
posted by yankeefog at 8:24 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm Jewish, and though I appreciate that people are "just trying to be nice" and all of those lovely things you all mentioned above, it just doesn't feel good to hear "Merry Christmas". In fact, it feels like shorthand for "The world we live in is a Christian world and therefore this is just how we say hello on December 25th. Welcome to Christianland! Be part of it or, well, just smile and nod politely!"

I usually say something like "I don't celebrate Christmas, but thank you, I hope you are enjoying your holiday." I don't want to "pass" for Christian, and I don't think it's rude to speak out.
posted by judith at 8:25 AM on November 18, 2005


Last year, a Muslim friend of mine wished me Merry Christmas and couldn't understand why I thought that was so funny.

Muslims believe Jesus was a very important prophet just like Mohammed. They believe he will come back in the end times too.

I do not get offended when people wish me a Happy Hanukah either.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:35 AM on November 18, 2005


How about just a plain old "Happy Holidays" ?
posted by cass at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2005


As a christian, I have no problem wishing people "Merry Christmas", I mean it's everyones right to celebrate the one day set aside to commemerate the birth of Santa. It's certainly not a religious holiday anymore (if you don't believe me, go to the mall)
posted by blue_beetle at 8:58 AM on November 18, 2005


What stavros, davidmsc, tom_g, arcticwoman, rxrfrx, zanni, substrate, Optimus Chyme, and languagehat said.

it's a pagan holiday which was co-opted by the early christians
More about this in Patrick Farley's excellent Saturnalia, a seasonal favorite. And as for Islamic belief, how about a Christmas reading of Mary's sura in the Q'uran?
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an atheist. I've always celebrated Christmas and I'm happy to be wished a Merry Christmas. For some of us, it's definitely a secular holiday.

I do sympathize with non-Christian theists who feel excluded by the default celebration of a Christian-originated holiday. I think there's a different sort of cultural dynamic going on there sometimes.
posted by tdismukes at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2005


Just noting that I really loved the tag "festivus".
posted by keijo at 9:10 AM on November 18, 2005


Oh, and even though I don't celebrate them, I'd be perfectly pleased to be wished a happy Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Soltice, Ramadan, or any other religious holiday. I figure the main point is that the person is wishing happiness for me, in whatever context.
posted by tdismukes at 9:11 AM on November 18, 2005


It's not the spirit of the greeting as intended by the speaker, it's the fact that being wished "Merry Christmas" every time I leave the house reinforces the notion of default Christianity. Consider, by analogy, if gay and lesbian couple had to listen, for two months of the year, to every asshole on the street telling them, "Have a great wedding and enjoy the legal protections thereof!"

It's fucking annoying. And, in an era where a sitting president says that atheists should be considered neither patriots nor citizens (George H. W. Bush), this public witnessing get's really fucking old.
posted by stet at 9:13 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm an agnostic Gringe. Consequently, whenever somene says "Merry Christmas, "Happy Holidays" or other seasonal greeting, I poilitely say "Same to you."
posted by lola at 9:14 AM on November 18, 2005


A Muslim once greeted me "Merry Christmas." In Dubai. That is all.
posted by brownpau at 9:25 AM on November 18, 2005


stet, while I probably agree with your politics 100%, your analogy doesn't work that well. I understand where you're coming from, but gays and lesbians are prohibited - in a legal way - from enjoying the same rights that straight couples are. I'm not aware of any legal rights that xians have over non-theists.

That said, I believe that it is very important to protect what little separation of church and state exists.

(in case you didn't catch my posts above, I've an extremely strong atheist with very anti-religious views)
posted by tom_g at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2005


Some non-Christians will get pissy if you tell them to have a "Merry Christmas." Some Christians will be annoyed if you say "Happy Holidays" because you're avoiding addressing their holiday. Most people, myself included, don't really give a shit. Someone is wishing me well, thanks!
posted by mikeh at 9:46 AM on November 18, 2005


tom_g: While atheists and non-Christians are not currently officially discriminated against, doing so is an active policy goal of a certain vocal and disturbingly effective segment of the American political landscape. Case in point, the incident with H. W. Bush that I noted above.

Like an offensive joke, there's nothing inherently wrong with Christmas wishes, but one's boss shouldn't tell sexist jokes to the women who work under him. It's the baggage that comes with it.

Consider that there is an agenda, likely not one shared by the well-wisher, to alienate and marginalize all non-Christians and require public adherence to Christianity in public life and, yeah, I've got a problem with it.
posted by stet at 10:00 AM on November 18, 2005


stet:"Consider that there is an agenda, likely not one shared by the well-wisher, to alienate and marginalize all non-Christians and require public adherence to Christianity in public life and, yeah, I've got a problem with it."

I completely agree.

I was just stating that the xian/merry xmas and gay/marriage thing didn't work on some kind of level. That's all.

Also, I can't help but think of the intentions of the well-wisher when they say "merry christmas". They are (I hope) just trying to be friendly. Regarding the content (as in, what do I think of the holiday), I find both the religious and secular aspects of xmas equally revolting.
posted by tom_g at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2005


Faint of Butt, everyone!

tom_g writes "Also, I can't help but think of the intentions of the well-wisher when they say 'merry christmas'. They are (I hope) just trying to be friendly."

Well, right, but they are being friendly in a way that assumes things about the other that it is not OK to assume. If it's the equivalent of "have a good day," why aren't we just saying "have a good day"? Because it's not the same; it includes huge assumptions about my private life and my upbringing and my opinions thereof. If they want to be friendly they should wish happy Thursday, or happy first snow day of the winter, or in some way recognize something that is objective (OK, maybe days of the week aren't objective, but you know) and shared.
Basically, what stet says -- assuming a default Christian point of view is no more appropriate than default male or default heterosexual (or default child-bearing, my personal peeve), which are things I actively work to removing from the societal norm.
posted by librarina at 10:29 AM on November 18, 2005


The analogy I was going for with the Gay/Lesbian thing was more of an extension of the notion of compulsory heterosexuality which, it looks like, orginates in an Adrienne Rich essay/paper and that I learned about in teh c0ll3ge. The problem with these default assumptions is that those of us that don't meet the collective standard are forced to explain and defend ourselves at every turn. Sort of like the Jehovah's Witness kid in my third grade class who constantly had to defend why he didn't pledge allegience to the flag every morning.

Similarly, there's a thing on Metafilter that I think of as compulsory liberalism where we're all assumed, until proven otherwise, to hate Bush and be anti-war, pro-choice, and against discrimination against GLBT people. It's not that most of us don't meet that description, and that people who differ from the norm aren't tolerated/welcomed, but that there's a tremendous burden placed on those who've been 'othered', and I don't think that's a great thing to do.

I do want to make clear, I'm not personally offended at the person who says "Merry Christmas," unless their an acquaintance who should damn well know better, I'm offend at the Great Cloud of Social Injustice that hovers over a seemingly innocent greeting.
posted by stet at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2005


*waves at librarina and blows kisses*
posted by stet at 10:35 AM on November 18, 2005


I also agitate for correct spelling, grammar & punctuation, self-proofreading, and spell-checking; however, as "to removing" demonstrates, sometimes one slips. Which is why it isn't exactly offensive to me to be told Merry Christmas ... it's more like ignorance. Like "to removing."

On preview: I should've known I could count on stet to have worse typos than I do. Mwah!
posted by librarina at 10:41 AM on November 18, 2005


librarina:"Basically, what stet says -- assuming a default Christian point of view is no more appropriate than default male or default heterosexual (or default child-bearing, my personal peeve), which are things I actively work to removing from the societal norm."

I understand. I do. Honestly.

I'm not sure why this one (the "merry xmas" thing) doesn't really get me going. I'm a libertarian socialist (think Chomsky) who has been known to get on my soapbox about almost everything. I have lectured people on how religion is child-abuse. I was out in the streets with tens of thousands of people on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Anyway, people who know me speak very cautiously around me because they don't want to "get me going." For some reason, though, I really don't think a person wishing me a merry christmas is cause for protest. I completely understand where you and stet are coming from, but to jump down someone's throat for wishing you well seems rather counterproductive.

But I completely agree about the threat that xianity poses to the US. We are inching toward a kind of theocracy. As a parent of a 3-year-old who will be going to public school, I am prepared to be very active in her education to keep religion and all superstition out of her education. I am prepared to continue to fight for her to have reproductive freedom.

There is so much to do. Much to fight about. When the barista making my coffee wishes me a "merry christmas" next month, I'll smile and say "thanks".
posted by tom_g at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2005


I'm a Jew and I also don't really like hearing it.

But absolutely, it should be taken in the intended spirit. I always return the sentiment.
posted by thejoshu at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2005


tom_g: While atheists and non-Christians are not currently officially discriminated against, doing so is an active policy goal of a certain vocal and disturbingly effective segment of the American political landscape.
posted by stet at 10:00 AM PST on November 18


This is absolutely not true. There are many types of discrimination non-theists and non-Christians face, both by American society in general and by local, state, and federal governments. I don't want to derail the thread, so evidence upon request.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2005


tom_g (28Ker) writes "to jump down someone's throat for wishing you well seems rather counterproductive. "

Oh, it's not like I engage in this conversation with every random person who says this!
My family celebrates Christmas and I go to spend the time with them because I love them (and this year stet's coming with me; that'll be an adventure), and I smile and hug and say "happy Christmas" back to them when they offer it. This philosophical conversation is clearly not one for that situation. At the grocery store I say "thanks, you too." This conversation doesn't belong there either.
I do like it when people want others to be happy. I was just discussing how I respond internally, and why, which I think is more interesting.

To answer the other original question, my preferred greeting would be "have a good day."
posted by librarina at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2005


Unsurprisingly, some people will get really pissed off about the most well-meaning allusions.

It looks like the majority will either be silently pissed off, or will take it in the spirit it's given. I'm all for it, but my opinion doesn't really count because I'm Christian (U.C.C. Congregational, yes, the one with those ads).

(Caveat: I wouldn't say "Happy Hanukkah" to someone who seemed Hasidic, or "Happy Kwanzaa" to someone black. Not because I don't want them to be happy, but because it seems kind of false-pretenses-y.)
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:18 AM on November 18, 2005


Personally I wish the whole over-the-top commercialist holiday would fall in a fucking ditch and never be seen again. And it bothers me not one whit when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas. How often do I get several hundred people hoping I have a good day, even if the specific one they encourage me to enjoy celebrates an occasion I don't care about?
posted by phearlez at 11:22 AM on November 18, 2005


tom_g: It's not a fight at all, I'm just clarifying my argument so that you'll understand where I'm coming from. I'm satisfied that you do, and I hope that you feel the same way regarding the case you made. You need make no case to me (esp. as I'm not very leftist myself) about your credentials. The single agendum for my posting is to explain why I personally find "Merry Christmas" to be offensive in a social way regardless of the intention of the individual speaker. You, and most posters on this thread, feel differently and I understand why. I just disagree is all.

That said, happy Easter to every single person here!
posted by stet at 11:22 AM on November 18, 2005


The nice thing about "Happy Holidays" is it has a much longer season. I think it's really only appropriate to say "Merry Christmas" ON Christmas Day, a day on which I see only family and close friends. You can start saying "Happy Holidays" the day after Thanksgiving and on through New Year's, brightening hopefully some person's sucky bleary winter day.
posted by Sara Anne at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2005


I'm Jewish/athiest and I'm pretty much in judith's camp. I live in a small community with a creche in the town square starting in a few weeks. I'm nice to people who say Merry Christmas because I'm a nice person to strangers generally. Family and close friends who can't work out something more specific to say to me I might say something to, however it wouldn't occur to me to be pissed off, just maybe disappointed. They mean well and I already know I'm a grouch, so I try to moderate it during the season that everyone else seems to think is a No Grouch Zone.

I did have an exchange with a friend who I pointed this out to who basically said she wanted me to have a Merry Christmas even though she knew I didn't celebrate it. That felt weird in the way Judith describes. Other than that, I'm pretty much Happy Holidays to anyone I exchange pleasantries with. When the gals at the Supermarket tell me Happy Easter though I might mention that it's not my holiday.

And, not like you asked, but I feel that a lot of this PC-backlash that people are talking about comes as much from the people who chest pound about their right to wish everyone a Merry Christmas as from the people who say they wish everyone wouldn't say it. Everyone in this thread has been nice and civil but around here I'm more likely to hear Christians bemoaning the way the season is going to hell (in the secularization of the holiday) than atheists/Jews/Muslims/anyone else saying how over-Christmassy it is. May just be where I live.
posted by jessamyn at 2:06 PM on November 18, 2005


I'm agnostic and I don't mind being greeted with "Merry Christmas". I just dislike that it assumes I'm Christian. I always use, and respond with, "Happy Holidays". It covers a wide time span from Thanksgiving to New Year.
posted by deborah at 2:18 PM on November 18, 2005


I'm an agnostic (former Catholic) and continue to celebrate Xmas, though now just as a seasonal event rather than a religious holiday, of course. I take absolulely no offense when wished a Merry Christmas, though I usually tend to say something along the lines of "enjoy the holidays" (which, incidentally, I got into the habit of saying back in college when I was still Catholic and roomed for several years with a good friend who's Jewish).
posted by scody at 2:29 PM on November 18, 2005


Now that the post has scrolled off the page, I guess it's safe to follow up. No best answer marked because they were all excellent. Very helpful, thanks.

Merry Faint of Butt's Birthday to all, and to all a good night.
posted by klarck at 3:56 PM on November 18, 2005


MetaChat.

Faint of Butt carols.
posted by matildaben at 5:43 PM on November 18, 2005


I know this is an older thread, but I'm fairly new to MeFi; I hope it's okay to still comment. As a Christian, I have been pleasantly surprised to read that non-thiests are as laid-back as they seem to be on this list. It's good that so many just take the sentiment of "merrry Christmas" as good wishes.

I wouldn't be offended if someone wished me happiness for a holiday that I don't celebrate, either. For instance, our family doesn't celebrate Halloween, but if someone wishes me "happy Halloween", I generally say "thanks"...if they get more detailed, I just say, "We don't celebrate Halloween. Generally, they don't take it any further.

I appreciate the postings above that acknowledged that Christmas is an important and significant holiday for millions/billions of people in the world. Just like it would be rude to rename Kawaanza something else and to call African Americans "blacks", please know that it is offensive to Christians to call them "xians" and to rename Christmas, xmas. Yes, I know that to many people, it is just a way to shorten the word...but for many, it is a way to deny the significance of holy day for many, many people. Just as non-thiests don't want to feel diminished because of their beliefs, neither do Christians--please treat others the way you would like them to treat you.
posted by Mrs. Smith at 12:14 PM on December 19, 2005


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