Katie Scarvey column: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! (If this is OK with you…)

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 24, 2006

I love Christmas. I love the poinsettias, the extravagant light displays, the little girls in red velvet dresses and white tights. I love hearing “Feliz Navidad” on the radio and sawing down cedar trees. I love making cinnamon and glue ornaments and playing the piano while my daughter sings “Gesu Bambino.”

I love the renewal of faith Christmas brings, the sense of peace I feel when my voice is one among hundreds making a joyful noise.

What I don’t like at Christmas is the angry noise from the holida’s self-appointed defenders who warn that the dark forces of secularism are on the march and won’t be satisfied until every vestige of the holiday is wrested from public life, like the Grinch taking the candy cane from Cindy Lou Who’s hand.

Part of the uproar over the past few years seems to surround what store clerks are allowed to say or not say. Apparently, a cheery “Happy Holidays” — instead of “Merry Christmas” — is, for some, a sign that the secularists want to turn us into godless heathens.

Or Canadians.

I don’t understand getting upset over hearing a cheery, inclusive “Happy Holidays” from clerks. I’m thrilled if they simply complete my transaction without asking for my phone number — an increasingly popular and annoying practice.

If the corporate muckety-mucks have instructed them on what to say to customers– whether it be “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hannukah” or “Fork over the iPod you just boosted from Electronics” — then I assume it’s a decision based on what they believe is good for business. I have faith the market will figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Few would dispute that questionable decisions are sometimes made in the name of political correctness. There was much anger last year, for example, over the VA Medical Center not displaying its nativity scene because of complaints.

I found the decision a little sad, but not quite the triumph of Satan that some suggested.

Vietnam vet and VA volunteer Whitey Harwood pointed out that not one veteran he worked with there had ever requested an escort to view the scene. The residents were, he implied, less worried about an overly zealous separation of church and state than about their separation from other human beings. He reminded people of a program that allowed them to “adopt a veteran” and suggested they could drive vets around Rowan County to see religious displays. Seemed reasonable to me.

Instead of fretting over the so-called war on Christmas, wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our energies to taking advantage of the seemingly infinite opportunities we have to celebrate the holiday in meaningful ways?

Like filling a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. Angel Tree shopping. Giving to the Christmas Happiness fund. Sending care packages to soldiers in Iraq. Buying a water buffalo for a family in a third world country through Heifer International. Inviting someone without a church to come worship with you at yours.

Shouldn’t we be looking for Christmas where it’s most at home?

We can find it in churches everywhere as families light advent candles and congregations sing “O Holy Night.” We can find it in the warmth and illumination of a candle passed from hand to hand on Christmas Eve.

We can find it in our homes, when we put a star on top of our Christmas trees, when we arrange Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus on the coffee table, with the shepherds and wise men.

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays!

Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.