Hippy Hollandaise

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 29 November 2013)
Christianity does not have the monopoly on the festive season.

As we approach the festive season, we yet again see the internet being bombarded with posts by Christians stating that they will say “Happy Christmas” or “Merry Christmas” and not “Happy Holidays”. There seems to be a belief in recent years, particularly in the USA that “Happy Holidays” is at the least modern political correctness, or at the worst appeasement of Muslims.

As these people attempt to “put Christ back into Christmas” they are in fact very mistaken. Christianity does not have the monopoly on the festive season, and it never did.

In fact, no-one knows how far back the term “Happy Holiday” goes back. It was however first introduced in the USA, which has always been a meeting place of cultures and faiths, not to appease Muslims but rather to include Jews celebrating Chanukah in the festive season. It may in fact come from the Hebrew Hag Sameach, which was never originally associated with Chanukah but rather Passover. The phrase took on the plural to became Irving Berlin’s inspiration for the song of the same name in 1941 and was sang by Bing Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn, released in 1942. Surely no-one could ever accuse Bing and Old Blue Eyes of being anti-Christian?

There is no real surprise that there should be festivals in late December. They take place around the winter solstice, when the northern hemisphere is furthest from the sun, giving us the shortest day. It was seen by our pagan ancestors as a time of rebirth and renewal. No surprise then that the birth of several deities should take place around then. Horus, Heracles, Zeus, Sol Invictus and Mithra were all associated with the festive season, and the Roman Festival of Saturnalia also reached it’s climax around the winter solstice.

And this makes a nonsense of those who claim – and I have seen this – that 25 December is the birthday of Jesus Christ. The fact is that we simply do not know what date Jesus was born upon. Contrary to popular belief, neither Horus nor Mithra were allegedly born on 25 December. These claims are pure myth, started off by early 20th century writers on spirituality. However, according to Andrew McGowan of the Biblical Archaeological Society, as well as the Saturnalia taking place in late December, in 274 CE the Roman Emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) on 25 December. As the people of the time were mostly poor, it would have been impossible for them to celebrate the Saturnalia, Sol Invictus and Jesus Christ in separate festivals, so all three became merged into the one. It was not until the 12th century that Christmas was set as 25 December. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday. It is interesting to note that in Scots history 6th January was for a long time referred to as “Auld Yule”. Note also that 6th January is twelve days after Christmas – Twelfth Night.

As to this nonsense of saying Happy Holiday being to appease Muslims, or indeed to be anti-Christian, I do not know where that comes from. In my experience nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of Muslims, certainly here in the UK, are business owners and they love Christmas. Why shouldn’t they? It is boom time for them. Here in Edinburgh there are Muslim-owned businesses close to Edinburgh Central Mosque who put Christmas decorations up every December. One of them, the Kebab Mahal restaurant, annually puts a sign in their window wishing all their customers a Merry Christmas. It has always been my experience that Muslims have been nothing other than respectful to those celebrating Christmas.

We therefore see that there is nothing wrong in saying “Happy Holiday(s)”. But then, there is nothing wrong in saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Christmas” either. It is all down to individual choice. I personally prefer to say “Seasons Greetings” or “Compliments of the season”. Christianity however does not have a monopoly upon the festive season. So by all mean, use whichever phrase you wish.

I would suggest however that if anyone refuses to say “Happy Holiday(s)” to be inclusive of Christians and Christianity only, then they are doing so for all the all reasons. Finally, I would remind them that they do so in the name of a man whom it is said accepted all and turned away none.


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