During the last few weeks I have had and also overheard multiple conversations about the supposed, “War on Christmas,” and how atheists supposedly hate people telling them, “Merry Christmas.” As an atheist myself who enjoys the Christmas season, I was curious what other atheists think about the situation. Personally, I have no problem with a person wishing me, “Merry Christmas, “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Merry Kwanzaa,” or, “Happy New Year.” So long as you are sincerely wishing me well in your own way, I am cool with that.
When I was enjoying a cup of coffee and reading some Carl Sandburg at Waffle House several days ago, I got to be a fly on the wall when a few employees had their own ideological battle over what phrase is appropriate this time of year. As a customer was leaving, their server said loudly, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” The customer answered in kind. A few moments later, another employee mocked the first server, “Christmas isn’t for four days! You don’t need to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ You can just say, “Happy Holidays.’ It covers everything.” The first server then replied, “I can say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ if I want! It is my Constitutional right!” As the two went back and forth, another server joined in on the side of the non-“Merry Christmas” side and the first server got even more agitated. It ended with some dishware being tossed angrily into the sink bin and the second server announcing, “You say what you want! It’s your job!” with the implicit warning that saying, “Merry Christmas,” could get you fired.
After the conversation cooled down, I asked all three, “Does your company have a specified policy on what to say during the holidays?” All shook their heads in the negative and one replied, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “Just for the record, I am an atheist, but, I have no problem with a person saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Holidays,’ or whatever to me during the season.” Oddly enough, the second and third servers from the previous conversation did not seem happy to hear my interjection. Yet, not upset enough to argue with me. I also asked the three of them if they had experienced any negativity from any customers to being told a particular holiday phrase. They all said, “No.” It was strange to see people getting so riled up about what seemed to be a non-issue. I felt like the ironic atheist, publicly defending, “Merry Christmas.”
With my interest peaked even more about the issue, I decided to poll some of my fellow atheists to see what they thought about it. I did an informal poll on two different secret atheist groups on Facebook that I participate in.
My poll was simple. I posted,
“I’d appreciate the Club’s help with an informal poll for a Christmas article I’m working on. Here is the question…
As an atheist, does it offend you when a stranger says, “Merry Christmas,” to you, rather than, “Happy Holidays” or something more generic for the season? Please start your response with, “Yes,” (that it does offend you) or, “No,” (that it doesn’t)”
I got responses from atheists from all over the United States and in multiple other countries. The responses totaled 84 votes between the two Facebook groups.
The results were:
– 82 atheists had no problem being wished a, “Merry Christmas.”
-2 said that the phrase did SOMETIMES bother them.
The two voting that the phrase was at times offensive to them added,
“Yes, sometimes, I do get offended, but only because I live in the south where everyone just always assumes everyone is Christian. I’m tired of always having to live by their rules. I also am aware that it’s a small thing that I don’t need to sweat, so don’t anyone go off on me.”
and, “Yes, depending on the person saying it. If they know me personally, then they know I’m an atheist and I would expect them to respect me enough to say happy holidays as I would do the same in return as my wish for them would reflect whatever religion they observe. From a stranger, no, doesn’t bother me at all.”
All said and done, over 97% of the atheists polled did not mind people telling them, “Merry Christmas,” at all. The two people who did find it offensive, only did under certain circumstances. Though my sample group was not very large, it did offer great variation in culture and geography. That said, I don’t think that the whole, “War on Christmas,” by atheists is everything the media cracks it up to be. Heck, the vast majority of the atheists polled even celebrate Christmas to some degree.
I have rarely every found an atheist that had any problem with another person’s personal expression of their own religious beliefs. But, we do tend to get upset when religious dogma is imposed via federal, state, or local government. As much as we value the rights of individuals, we also value the Constitutional restrictions regarding government pushing or showing preference to any religion. Again, I speak generally and not for every atheist in the world. We don’t all live on an island, have an atheist Pope, or think the same thing… and, we’re more like a herd of cats than a herd of sheep.
You have the right to say whatever holiday season well-wishing you want to people. They may like it or may not. Likely, they won’t even care.For me, I generally respond to a person with what they offered me. If, “Merry Christmas,” I respond with, “Merry Christmas.” If, “Happy Holidays,” I answer the same back. Still, I do think that, “Happy Holidays,” is the most comprehensive and inclusive benison. It includes all holidays and and excludes none. Yet, I know that some Christians feel excluded when not specifically blessed per their specifications. They don’t give much credence to the holidays of other faiths during this season and have tunnel vision for Christmas. Only wear that shoe if it fits. I am not trying to ruffle your feathers. Let each search their own conscience regarding this issue.
There is enough drama in life. There is no need to spend December pissing on one another’s holiday campfire and fighting battles that don’t exist. So cheer up! The, “War on Christmas,” is just a sham. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And, have a great New Year! -Luke