Is “Merry Christmas” Offensive?

This is something I’ve never understood. Maybe Jewish people (since the few Muslim people I know are not offended by the phrase) can explain to me what’s offensive about “Merry Christmas.”

Yes, I realize Christmas is ostensibly a Christian holiday celebrating the Messiah that the Jews believe is still to come. Yes, I realize that the holiday season brings about mangers and many Christian-oriented carols.

Nevertheless, the holiday is essentially a secular one that is celebrated by many atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians. It has come to be a holiday season about shopping, gift-giving, family, well-wishing, and eating. It should be common knowledge that the meaning of words change over time and a lot of the Christ has gone out of Christmas, which is fine by me.

I’m very much against the conservative Christian crusade to “reclaim Christmas.” I’m fine with Christmas being a primarily secular holiday—all the more reason for people not to be offended by it. If you’re not Christian, buy gifts, put up a Christmas tree and decorate it, have a festive meal with your loved ones, sing non-religiously themed Christmas carols. If you are a Christian, sing the Christian-themed carols and put up your little manger scenes, but don’t force those things on other people.

Frankly, as a Christian, I don’t see the birth of Christ as being relatively theologically significant. If you are a Christian, Good Friday should be far more important to you, with Easter coming a close second. Of course, this problem of oversignifying the birth of Jesus is just one instance of the general phenomenon of people making too big a deal of birthdays in general. Wouldn’t the day Malcolm X first encountered Allah in prison be more important in his life than the day his mother happened to give birth to him? Wouldn’t the day Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will be more important in her life than the day her mother happened to give birth to her?

If Jesus is important in your life, why alienate your Jewish friends? You can celebrate Good Friday—the day Jesus died for your sins; not the day Jesus was all dirty and smelly and crying in a manger (never mind the fact that he wasn’t actually born on December 25). Let’s not reclaim Christmas for Christians. Let Christmas be a secular holiday of good cheer for everyone. Merry Christmas, everybody. Yes, I mean “Merry Christmas, everybody.”

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24 Comments

  1. Well, I don’t personally find it offensive (and, I’m Jewish), but I can see how some people might. It’s kind of insensitive for people to (albeit mostly unintentionally) assume that everyone automatically celebrates Christmas, which, regardless of the recent commercialization frenzy, is a religious holiday. Like I said, I don’t find it offensive because I know that most people intend to offer good wishes by saying Merry Christmas, and not to offend.

  2. Well, I’m all for making it not a religious holiday (and I’m Christian). For me, it’s just fun. Decorations. Gift-giving. People singing and gathering together.

    For all I care, people can ditch the manger scenes.

  3. I agree that the meaning of Christmas has changed. It no longer seems like Christmas is a christian-only holiday. It’s just nice fun and seems more like a celebration of family, and home, etc…
    PS: I’m an atheist and I can’t believe people would find “merry christmas” offensive

  4. I am an atheist, hardcore, to the bone, who thinks all religious people are deluded fools — and have yet to meet a single one who has been able to dissuade me of this, usually the harder they try, the more deluded they seem, as I approach my 39th birthday — and I am not the least bit offended by “Merry Christmas.” Who doesn’t like Santa?

  5. Heh. When atheists describe themselves as ‘hardcore, to the bone’, it seems like it’s about the same as a religious affiliation.

    I guess there are agnostics out there somewhere that are very convinced and pushy on the point that there’s not strong evidence either way.

    I suppose I’m an agnostic, but I don’t have any strong feelings either way.

    Oh :) – to actually comment on the subject of the post, aysiu continues to manage to both provide a perspective I haven’t considered, and be absolutely reasonable, at the same time.

    I can’t imagine anyone being angry at “Merry Christmas.” All the selling Christmas-themed junk as early as October pushes my buttons a little, but I guess some places really need the economic boost.

  6. “Heh. When atheists describe themselves as ‘hardcore, to the bone’, it seems like it’s about the same as a religious affiliation”

    It only means that I am dogmatic about my beliefs require evidence commensurate with the level of certainty with which I hold them that’s all. In other words, faith is anathema to me, as, by definition, “having faith” is believing to a degree of certainty which exceeds what it warranted by the evidence, and faith is promoted as a virtue (with no reason provided to suppose it is), demanded, and expected by Christianity.

    So, laugh all you want, but you laugh in ignorance.

  7. Well said. I agree. I find it extremely odd when people are offended by an invitation to join with them in something that brings them personal joy–whether the greeting is “Merry Christmas,” “Mabrook al Aid” (for the Muslim Aid al Kebir), or “Happy Halloween,” which always seems to elicit a strong response as well. Sigh.

    This is my official invitation to anyone who desires you wish me personal greetings to join with them in celebrating a holiday they enjoy to please do so. I will respond with a gracious and heartfelt, “Thank you,” whether I have an intent to participate in your revelry or not.

    While I’m at it, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about forcing nativity scenes in places, and so on. I wrote an entire blog post about that sort of thing, so I won’t repeat those comments here. I’ll just say, “Don’t impose your beliefs on others if you want them to follow those beliefs. Instead, live in a way that is better and those who see it will want to do the same as you.”

  8. For me “Merry Christmas” brings to mind:

    “Peace on Earth, good will towards men”

    “men” being all people on the planet Earth.

    As Gibran said, God created truth with many doors so all who believe may enter. (may not be a direct quote, but the meaning is there).

    “God” is a word. It’s what is in our mind and hearts that matter.

    I for one respect everyone choice to believe, in which ever manner they choose or, of course, the choice not to believe.

    So with that I leave you with;

    Peace on Earth, good will towards men.

  9. Sorry, I’m a bit late here. Cards on the table I am a Christian and therefore deluded. Seriously though, though I agree that I would not want to get all fundamentalist about Christmas I do disagree that to the Christian it is not that significant. Yes Jesus wasn’t born on 25th of Dec, but then again the annivesary of his death isn’t Good Friday day (at least not every year), but from the point of view of the prohecies in the Old Testament and the advent of the Christ celebrating his birth is IMHO very important to the Christian believer. After all if you’re not born you cannot die or do all the exciting stuff in between.

  10. All most everyone who wishes another Merry Christmas is trying to spread a little joy.
    We need to encourage everyone to share the joy of their faith, whatever that may be, and learn to be happy for them.
    What I find offensive are attempts by anyone to impinge upon another’s right to celebrate their faith or lack thereof. P.C. efforts to censor remain just that censorship.

  11. Suppose for a second that a group of white men start celebrating a holiday they call “White Man Day.” 300 years from now, White Man Day has become insanely popular, and is celebrated around the country, mostly by the white majority but also by a some non-white people. The holiday has nothing really to do with being a white man, per se, but is characterized by pictures of a jolly old guy named Whitey Olaf and his team of flying unicorns, who bake pies for children.

    For a month and a half leading up to White Man Day there are pictures of Whitey Olaf everywhere – on TV, in billboards, and all over stores. Although most of these things don’t specifically mention the holiday by name, it is quite clear they refer to White Man Day. People on the street greet each other by saying “Great White Man to you,” or the more PC “Happy Color of Your Flesh Days,” because apparently not everyone celebrates White Man Day, and there is also a very minor holiday called “Fourth-Most
    Important Black People’s Day” in the same month.

    Now for a second imagine you are a Black woman, an Asian guy, a Native American, or really anybody who is not a white man. If somebody wishes a “Great White Man to you,” would you be offended? They mean well, and they are smiling, so maybe not. Suppose this happens a hundred times in a month where you cannot go anywhere without seeing Whitey Olaf, and are constantly, CONSTANTLY, reminded you are not a white man. Sure White Man Day has nothing to do with being a white man anymore. Right?

    For anybody who thinks otherwise, Christmas is still a Christian holiday. It may bear more resemblance these days to Valentine’s Day than to a real religious holiday, but for those of us who don’t celebrate it, it is a 2-month long constant reminder that the majority of this country forgets that not everyone is Christian. In an era where our president thinks Intelligent Design is an idea with some merit, and things like stem cell research (potentially life-saving) and gay marriage (which at worst harms absolutely no one) are being blocked by religious zealots (some in our own government), I am perhaps a little more sensitive to the underlying assumption people make – perhaps unknowingly – when wishing you a Merry Christmas.

    Am I offended when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas? No, I’m not. Do I feel overwhelmed and a little annoyed by the thirtieth time it happens? Yes I do.

  12. Interesting concept this Christmas. Funny thing is that it used to be a pagan holiday hijacked by the church.
    As for offending people – all the non-christian religious leaders (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist) recently asked the powers that be in the UK to stop fussing about the whole issue whether Merry Christmas offends – it was not their following that have a problem with it, but rather the “British populace”, or should we rather say a very vocal PC minority trying to “do good”.
    Maybe we should rather look at how commerce misuse the concept for their gain. Whether it be Merry Christmas, Whitemans Day, Valentines Day or Pink Fluffy Bunny Day – it all is being used to sell, sell, sell.
    Think about it – every month (or two) there is an event that requires you to buy, buy, buy.
    Money makes the world go round – keep it spinning!

  13. Well… what Rocdoc says makes sense. last christmas might be the 17/18th christmas of my lifetime which I could remember in India and never had I seen christmas celebration pics splashing all over the newpapers. I guess a nation where christianity is not more then 2.3% of the total population , every christmas used to pass off like any other day and last year I saw all the glitters which is usually prevalent in west. Well I am also a christian and I feel christmas is one occasion during the year when your family gathers around you. As far as the greeting is concerned , I guess in a country like India where you will find most of the faiths residing side by side , greeting ‘merry christmas’ by a Non-christian to a christian is as simple as a ‘Good Morning’ and people actually look forward to such occasions.

  14. Christmas was never about giving gifts, it’s just what was tacked on to it to get farther away from the whole “christ’s birth” part. I find it simply offensive that you can make such a post without even doing proper research, and I’m going to take a guess and say your an atheist or a liberal. Sigh. Please get out of our country if you don’t like our values.

  15. Furthermore I find your last paragraph the most offensive. (Awkward, making a post about something being offensive and yet doing the same thing, tsk tsk). Christmas isn’t a secular holiday. Just like celebrating “Allah” isn’t secular. If you want to believe it, believe it, if you don’t, what right do you have trying to mold someone else’s celebration to something less about the reason and more about just gifts, giving and waiting for some fat old jolly man to cram his butt down your chimney. You imply that people “miss” out if they aren’t christian, hello, jewish people have their own celebration, and you don’t see Christians or anyone else saying, “well, I’m sorry but I’m offended, i want you to change so I can be included”. Please stop watching CNN 24/7 and actually go to a church and listen instead of running your mouth.

  16. Furthermore still if you were a “real” christian you would not be so quick to toss aside the manger and the baby Jesus and actually realize something, take president’s day for example, we celebrate it for all presidents, does that mean all presidents were born on that day? No. But it’s the thought that counts. We don’t really know for sure when Jesus was born, but we celebrate it near the end of the year, just because it isn’t 100% factually accurate doesn’t mean we should go out, set fire to our crosses and manger scene’s and wait for Santa and gifts. You are without a doubt, one of the most ignorant people I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting and or commenting on your blog. I won’t be coming back. If you can’t respect your own religion, than I know why you think everything should be for everyone, rather than celebrating for the true reason.

  17. I was reading these posts and came across the last three. While I am not personally a christian, (more of an agnostic) I find it very strange that someone who “claim’s” to be a christian can say basically “forget all the religious stuff, bring on the eggnog and presents!”. I just don’t see how that’s remotely logical. Christmas for christian’s is celebrating christ’s birth, not santa’s erection of presents.

  18. And also, who exactly is “forcing” you to celebrate it for the religious reason? It’s not like someone is holding a gun to your head with your family over a pit of fire and sharp spikes saying “IF YOU DON’T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS FOR THE “CHRIST” PART, YOUR GOING TO DIE, MUAHAHAHAHAHA!. Seriously. Get over it.

  19. I would say it’s not the phrase that’s offensive, but rather the intent of saying it. When you have the choice between saying “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas,” many people just prefer the former since it applies to more people and is thus more neutral. The problem arises when those folks who want to fight against the “War on Christmas” go out of their way to not be neutral, thereby making asses of themselves. It’s not very important, and I’d probably say Merry Christmas myself because it’s what I’m used to saying. However, it’s just another example of how the conservative Christians are all too often just intolerant jackasses.

  20. I’m a agnostic at this moment and time but I can even tell you that saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy holidays” isn’t a bad idea. You can control your response in a positive or negative matter because you can see the gesture of eithgoodwill or ill. However, its a timethat christians traditionally volunteer, donate money and other charitable things such as spreading joy all around the world. The purpose of Christmas has been taken over by economic quarters by corporations for many years now and not even going be the tennants of the catholic christian faith. Yes, pagans had the Christmas tree and the reef ans hence shows the assimulation factor of the europeans like the vikings the pagans were hit by religious conversions.
    Baically the whole notion of eliminationg a religion or not doesn’ even matter. The notion of the purpose is ost by materialism causemost christians aren’t christian. They are atheist people cloaking their middle to upper class hypocracy as seen in the bnumber of tything, priest participation, crimes, t.vevanglization, child abuse, etc show us today. Most bigotted sociopaths go to church anyways and they seek to control your life in the privacy of your own home. For example, legalization of all drugs or same sex civil unions”, etc. Totally crazy though that this situation matters cause you believe or not its a beautiful holiday with the decroations like 4th of July is awesome. This argument is pointless if you ask me.

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