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The “Merry Christmas” controversy?

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Happy Holidays CroppedThere is a news story about a man in Sudbury who claims he didn’t get as many hours to work at his part time job as a result of his saying Merry Christmas to people. He also quoted Bible verses at his boss, saying that not saying Merry Christmas would be denying Jesus, something he’s not willing to do. The whole story makes me very uncomfortable. People want to claim both that saying “Merry Christmas” is just a little thing no one should be offended by, but also want to claim that it is a religious thing. If it is a religious thing, then why do they expect their employers to tolerate them saying it to customers?

One of our local newspapers has shut down and hidden the comment section to the article. A comment on the other local newspaper says that there is a lawsuit in progress against the boy and his family, and that the mother had put the manager’s phone number on facebook and encouraged people to harass the manager. There’s also a comment online that the staff person had been not just saying “Merry Christmas” but quoting the Bible to customers if they didn’t respond with “Merry Christmas” back at him. I don’t put much faith in anonymous commenters but at the same time I wonder if it is someone “in the know” frustrated beyond belief at the inability to respond publicly.

There is a weird challenge out there for a lot of people who have professional situations that require them not to speak about certain things. I sympathize with them, for the difficulty it might be sometimes being unable to respond. I also worry about how public perspective ends up being twisted because we too frequently hear only one side of stories.

Does hearing only one side of stories add to people believing that Christians are under more persecution than they are? I remember reading recently an article online by a woman who grew up in a family where the children were taught that they should aspire to be Christian martyrs, and it came as a bit of a shock to the woman to realize that there wasn’t likely to be much opportunity for that in her home (in the USA).

Back to Sudbury. Another comment I thought was interesting was pointing out that employers tend to do an online search of potential employees, and this man might someday regret having gone public with this. There is a weird question of when is it worth stepping forward on something, attaching one’s name to a particular cause. I struggle with attaching my name to the things I do because I know I change so frequently, refining my understanding of things and questioning things I used to believe. (I do attach my name to certain things quite frequently, I just feel deeply divided each time I do.)  I’m sure this man doesn’t believe he’ll ever change his faith… but the other thing is, would he change his understanding of employment, respect for the boss, etc?

I don’t know. I don’t know the situation. I don’t know for sure either way. I dislike the slew of comments I’ve seen on facebook the last week or so about how oppressed people feel about not being able to say “Merry Christmas.” There are so many bigger fish to fry people! No one stops people from saying it to friends and families. No one stops you from worshiping what God you want to worship. Employers do get to set the standards for what is said in the store (such as reminding people to “super-size it” or telling people to refer to their customers as “clients” instead of costumers).

My understanding is that the problem with insisting that one must say “Merry Christmas” rather than any other option is that doing so becomes an attempt to deny the existence of or the concern for those who are not Christian. Sure, non-Christians can just smile and take it nicely, like Christians say they would (often hypothetically) take it if someone called said “Happy Ramadan” or “Happy Hanuka”  to them. But there’s a difference. When people make the fuss about insisting they have to say “Merry Christmas” they might think they’re trying to insist on keeping the nostalgic Christmas of their childhood but what it ends up sounding like is that they want to insist only Christians belong here. People often tie it in with nationalism, saying “in Canada we should be able to say… ” or “in the USA we should be able to say…”. Say Merry Christmas, but don’t try to make it sound like its your right to, or like something is being taken away by trying to include those around you who aren’t Christian. Don’t argue that you have to say it, because arguing about it makes it sound like you wish non-Christians weren’t here.

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