Sunday, December 9, 2012

Choosing December's Language (Not a post about cussing)

As is typical of me I have seen glimpses of a conversation without really knowing where it started nor participating in it.  However, I am going to comment on it.  :)

The conversation I've been hearing is about calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree.  Which is simply a follow up to other conversations in the past about store clerks saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."  And both of these have a connection to conversations about whether nativities should be displayed on lawns of county courthouses. 

Before saying anything else, let me say that my thoughts are based in the following assumptions: It is okay to be Christian and to claim that. It is also okay to be not only sensitive but respectful about the people who are not.

So, for what they are worth, here are some thoughts...

When you see "Xmas" it doesn't mean someone is x-ing Christ out of Christmas.  In fact, "X" is the Greek letter chi which is the first letter of the word Christ.  "Xmas" is proper shorthand for the word Christmas.  (Technically, so a college professor told me, it would be shorthanded starting with a letter that combines the letters for chi and rho - the first two Greek letters in Christ - but since our keyboards are not equipped that way, "X" will have to do).

What about greeting from clerks?  Personally, I am delighted when a clerk tells me "Happy Holidays."  Unless I am in a store that claims a particular faith (say a Christian bookstore) I believe it is not only a safe but a kind assumption to believe that some of your customers will be other than Christian.  Therefore, it makes sense to give a greeting of the season without presuming to know about another's faith.  At the same time, I do and will happily greet my Christian friends with a jubilent "Merry Christmas."

Christmas tree or holiday tree?  Why not consider the circumstances?  A week from today when my  husband and I host a party for our church staff I have no doubt we will all call what is in our living room a Christmas tree.  That is what it is in our home and why we put it up.  However, as I drive past the lighted tree on Main St. in our town, holiday tree might be the best word.  After all, I have the pleasure of knowing many Jewish and Muslim as well as non-faith people here and the tree brings them joy as well.

Here's the thing...perhaps if we spent near as much energy being kind to one another as we do criticizing language (especially language that is meant to include) we might be better off. 

If we are really concerned about the message and meaning of Christmas then let's quit buying more stuff for our family and friends who already have too much stuff and let's use our resources not only to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the lonely, but to work to change systems that keep them in such conditions. 

Perhaps, if we are really concerned with the Christian message we will take down our trees altogether and set up nativities in their place or Advent wreaths around which we gather with our children or friends as we pray that God's will might be done.

Perhaps, if we want the name of Jesus to be known we might want to start living and loving as he did.  And I suspect how we choose our language might just matter to him.



Robin (noteverstill/noteversewing) said...

We're Jewish, and I prefer if you call it a Christmas tree. I love my holiday and I respect yours but I don't think we serve either of our traditions to conflate the two. A tree has been part of the Christmas tradition for years and years and it's beautiful. There's nothing about the Chanukah story that suggests or is improved by a tree. Finding ways to equate Chanukah to Christmas obfuscates the significance of the Chanukah story. And Christmas is Christian - it doesn't need to be something for everybody. I think calling it a "holiday tree" is probably done with good intentions but I find it unsettling because I respectfully don't want Chanukah to have anything to do with Christmas. As the person whom Christians are usually trying to make comfortable, I prefer that you call t Christmas tree a Christmas tree and make me feel welcome for being there at what is a Christmas event. We tell our kids that Christmas trees and traditions are beautiful and although we don't celebrate that holiday, we have many friends that do and it's okay to help our friends whom we love enjoy *their* holiday. So (speaking for myself) it's okay for a Christmas tree to be a Christmas tree. It's better than it being a holiday tree. And I really appreciate that you are taking the time to think about it, because words do carry so much weight.

Jill said...

Robin, thanks so much for your feedback! It is so helpful. I think you named well the importance of each of us claiming our own traditions while respecting others. I really appreciate your comment!