The “War on Christmas” is treated by the media as an annual event, obviously because the Christmas season is upon us only once a year. The general public became more fully aware of this battle when it was reported in the last few years that many retail stores ask their employees to offer greetings of “happy holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas” as a less offensive approach to interacting with customers. Of course, the phrase “happy holidays” isn’t new to the American vernacular and has permeated popular Christmas music for decades—thank you Andy Williams.
Some, like Rachel Held Evans would suggest, however, that Christians who are bothered by the marginalization of “Merry Christmas” in response to this shift in language are petty in their objections and have no legitimate understanding of Christian persecution. “Did someone threaten your life, safety, civil liberties, or freedom to worship?” If your response is that someone wished you happy holidays, “you are not being persecuted.”
This is, of course, a gross misreading of the issue. While we know how the commercial season comes and goes and hearing the words “Happy Holidays” doesn’t scar our ear drums, what we fully understand is that the “War on Christmas” is just one step of many by various secular strategists to silence Christianity in the public sphere— from the check-out counter to the university campus to the legislative debates on the House floor. The “War on Christmas” is much more than a war of words, it’s a battle that’s being waged against freedom of speech and religion, and a battle that every person who professes faith in Christ should concern themselves with. Today it may seem like a petty debate over how to greet or be greeted during a season that’s been reduced selfish want as opposed to the selflessness embodied by the humble beginnings of our Lord and Savior. But we know that it’s transcended well beyond the illusion of the petty as Christians in business are forced to compromise their reasonable faith convictions—or forced to shut their doors.
While believers ought to be aware of this battle over language and freedom, we should be extremely cautious not to compromise our testimony by correcting 19 year old cashiers because we’re offended by “happy holidays.” Respond graciously with a “Merry Christmas” and move along. The cash register is neither the time nor the place to debate this issue, but it is an opportunity to bear the precious gift of the Gospel—wish Christmas blessings on those you meet and be ready to give the answer for the hope within you.
We need to understand that this “War on Christmas” is ultimately about preserving the freedoms that allow for expressions of faith, a freedom that directly impacts the future of evangelical practice in American society. It’s about the wider culture having an awareness of secular efforts to strategically make it commonplace for Christian voices to be marginalized and discriminated against. Perhaps “War on Christmas” isn’t even a helpful way to describe things because assaults on religion go well beyond the Christmas season. But the sentiment is clear, there is a war against certain religions and Christianity is the target. It is important for us to defend “Merry Christmas” and other attacks on the faith because if we don’t guard the freedoms enjoyed as citizens of the United States, then every freedom for every person is at risk.
To be concerned with the present and future role of Christianity in our culture and to be willing to battle against the forces that wish to silence the Church and even redefine her practices (i.e. gay marriage) is not to minimize the life and death situations of those living out their faith in other corners of the world, in cultures that are hostile to the Christian message. Regularly, it seems, we hear reports of Christians beheaded for being Christian— for not renouncing their faith—in places like Syria. Images are being transmitted through social media that remind us that martyrdom is a reality and may be at our doorstep. We know, of course, that God’s will is not thwarted even in the face of these precious lives lost. Rather, God’s message is seen as something worth dying for, and who would die for a claim they knew was a lie?
But our role as Christians is not to sit back, watch the moral decline of a nation, and await our martyrdom. Our call is to be faithful to Christ and his message and speak against injustices of every kind, whether they are abortion, human trafficking, poverty or the silencing of certain voices while elevating voices of opposition. Though the “happy holidays” vs. “merry Christmas” squabble seems like no big deal, what it represents is the battle between the secular and the sacred, culminating in a decline of Christian influence in our society. This should be seen as a clarion call for Christians to engage in faith conversations in every corner of culture—even in the face of secular intimidation.