At last! It is finally time for old-fashioned religious fanatics like me to haul off and say the words -- "Merry Christmas." But there is a problem, sort of. The traditional greeting among the Eastern Orthodox is to say "Christ is born!" and then the other person replies "Glorify Him!" And then there's all kinds of hugging and multiple kisses on the sides of people's faces and other complicated religious stuff.
But, yes, folks do say "Merry Christmas" in the circles in which I move and we will be saying that for 11 more days, since I am writing this on Dec. 26. We do not, however, do the pear trees, birds, golden rings, maids and other things.
So the Christmas Wars are over, are they? At least for this year?
An essay in the Washington Post by Penne L. Restad yearns for this to be true:
At last, Christmas morning. May we now declare a truce in the Christmas culture war? All those poor salespeople who struggled to remember whether company policy was to greet shoppers with "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" are free to relax and settle down around their Christmas tree or holiday tree or whatever other seasonal symbol they prefer and celebrate in their own private way. For celebrate Christmas is something that almost all of us, apparently, do. A recent poll says 96 percent of Americans observe the holiday in some way or another.
But there is a problem. There are other poll numbers to consider.
Take, for example, that recent poll in which 62 percent of Americans said that generic season greetings such as "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" represent a "change for the worse" in public life. This was music to the ears of conservative news services such as Baptist Press, which added:
In addition, 32 percent of adults say they are bothered when stores use generic holiday greetings on their displays; 68 percent say they are not bothered. By contrast, only 3 percent of adults say they are irked when stores use "Merry Christmas." The overwhelming majority -- 97 percent -- says the reference to Christmas doesn't trouble them. The poll was conducted Dec. 5-8.
"[T]he use of the generic holiday expressions does not bother most Americans in general, including most major political and religious groups examined in this survey. But substantial minorities are bothered -- enough, perhaps, to cause concern among some retailers," Gallup's Lydia Saad wrote in an online analysis.
Now you would think that this would be good news for cultural conservatives who want to win the Christmas Wars.
But, as Saad noted, there is another way to read the Gallup numbers. For, you see, 24 percent of those polled said generic greetings are a "change for the better." That's a lot of people -- more than the number of Democrats who vote in primaries, for example.
And then Baptist Press happily reported that only 8 percent of non-Christians told the pollsters that people saying "Merry Christmas" offends them. Now that is a small number, too. However, that is a large number of a significant number of those offended are lawyers, editors, public-school leaders, Hollywood producers and church-state activists.
So will the fighting end? No way. The numbers are absolutely perfect for fundraisers on both sides of the battle lines.