For the past several years, there’s been plenty of debate as to the most appropriate, least-likely-to-offend, seasonal greeting for general use in our culture of religious pluralism. “Happy Holidays!” presently seems to be the greeting of choice — like peppermint-infused hot chocolate, it’s meant to go down smooth, leave a sweet aftertaste and offer a bit of warmth in a season all too often characterized by frenetic activity, overextended credit limits and unreachable expectations of familial perfection. “Happy Holidays!” is intended to gloss over the opportunities and difficulties of living with the myriad of religious differences that simultaneously entwine us to one another and estrange us from one another . Most importantly, the phrase is presently employed as a way of gutting religious language from public discourse (and attempting to keep religion conveniently covered under the blanket of privatized piety).
The irony in using “Happy Holidays!”, of course, is the phrase calls attention to the very thing our culture seems to take great pains to avoid — the notion that there are some things (including some days!) that are to be set apart as “holy”. The reason we have this “Holiday Season” isn’t because it’s a great opportunity for retailers to add profits to their bottom lines, but because, centuries ago, some days were devoted (set aside) for religious observance. These “Holy Days” (whether marking the winter solstice, commemorating the miraculous eight days of God’s provision for the Jews, or celebrating Christians’ belief in the coming of God-in-the-Flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth), were sacralized as opportunities to reflect, to worship, to party, to feast, to drink and to let go (if only for a little while) of the self-absorption that seems so much a part of the human condition. These sacred days provided time for pause — a “break in the action” — for folks to rediscover their connections to each other, to the world around them and to their understanding of the Reality beyond them. “Holy Days” mark out a specific time to stop, step out of the cells of unexamined routine, get still, remember one’s identity and get one’s bearings in the middle of this Mystery called Life. “Holy Days” still offer such opportunities — even if we sometimes neglect to see them.
Happy Holy Days!