Celebrating Christmas and Avoiding Offense

Last week’s episode of The Office opened with the boss, Andy Bernard, beginning a meeting by inclusively wishing his employees merry and happy to a slew of December holidays.
The grumpy, but lovable Stanley yelled out that he just wanted Christmas, plain and simple. The Office, which intelligently uses comedy to confront social issues and stereotypes head on, once again hit one of the great nerves of American society: the vast majority of Americans want Christmas.
It could be for religious reasons. There’s also tradition, family or the acute desire for a Red Ryder BB gun. (Even at the risk of shooting your eye out!)
We want Christmas. Retailers learned that lesson. More stores are eliminating “Holiday,” returning to the tried-and-true Christmas brand. It’s just good business.
While our society is not as religiously observant as in the past, even those who do not consider themselves to be religious still want tradition. These include songs about the babe in the manager. I live in Washington, D.C., where invoking God and promising prayers is only appropriate after tragedy. And yet, at least two radio stations are devoted to Christmas music 24/7 post Thanksgiving through Christmas Day. The “soft rock” non-religious station plays both religious and secular music. To attract non-religious listeners, the Christian music station does the same thing!
But in the United States, we are truer to a less considered part of the Christmas story: Controversy.
I am an observant Christian, but my favorite rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” is sung by the rock band Bare Naked Ladies. My favorite Christmas movie, A Christmas Story, has absolutely nothing to do with the baby born in a borrowed barn. The family does not even attend church. (The movie was filmed in the Cleveland of my childhood, which is part of the appeal for me.) Other classics, like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, keep Jesus out of Christmas, but invoke the hope and joy that Christmas is about.
I envy my brother and his family’s Christmas experiences in Europe. In Northern Europe, far fewer people attend church than in the US, but Christmas is celebrated unapologetically. It is all part of celebrating traditions that are the glue of societies. And what is not to love about hope, peace and good will toward men? (And, obviously, that means women and children as well.)
But in the United States, we are truer to a less considered part of the Christmas story: Controversy.
Our Christmas seasons are not complete without it. Let’s face it, Jesus was controversial. Herod wanted him dead before the baby could utter one controversial word. In Washington, D.C., our nation’s epicenter of conviction, knowing how to politely wish someone “Merry Christmas” requires supernatural mindreading to avoid offense. To some, even generic holiday wrapping paper could be offensive if it is not made from recycled material!
My Grandmother Geddes would laugh at all of this. She used comic strips when she ran out of wrapping paper. To her generation, it was the Christmas Stanley wants — plain and simple.
And they did not fret over all the other holidays. They simply offered this most universal wish which I think still covers the holiday bases:
Season’s Greetings to you and yours!