Why Merry Christmas?


by Frances Edstrom

I'm all for saying "Merry Christmas."

Many think that replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," is the perfect inclusive solution to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. And God knows, above all we must avoid hurt feelings.

But I think bunching all of the religious and non-religious celebrations that occur at this time of the year into one happy bundle is just a little insulting to people who take their holidays and holy days seriously. In the secular age in which we live, there is little opportunity for most of us to learn anything about the tenets and celebrations of the world's various religions, since mention of religion in public has become nearly taboo.

And it's unfair, I think, to urge Christians to forego wishing people a Merry Christmas simply because they are in the majority, and their religious holy day has been so successfully commercialized, while those of other religions have not.

There is a Christian majority in this country, yes, but the commercial growth of Christmas and its attendant displays, songs, plays, toys, and even clothing, has its roots more in convenience than in an attempt to foist one religion upon the world.

Roman Catholics began celebrating the birth of Christ, Christmas, in 336 AD, when the date for the celebration was fixed as December 25. They are also responsible for the Gregorian calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII put into use in 1582. Although this calendar is used the world over, and is considered secular rather than religious, it is a distinct departure from the calendars of the world's other major religions, which are strictly lunar.

According to World Book Encyclopedia's website:

"The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth about its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon about the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth about the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so there is no direct correlation between them. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 291⁄2 days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 3651⁄4 days, that is, about 12 lunar months and 11 days.

"To coordinate these three phenomena, and to accommodate certain ritual requirements, the Jewish calendar consists of 12 or 13 months of 29 or 30 days, and can be 353, 354, 355, 383, 384 or 385 days long. The linchpin of the calendar is the new moon, referred to in Hebrew as the molad.

"Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. The Hebrew word hanukkah (also written Hannuka or Chanukah) means dedication. The Hanukkah holiday begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (approximately December) and lasts eight days." This year, the first day of Hanukkah happens to fall on December 26, the day after Christmas.

"Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan falls at different times of the year. Muslims celebrate Ramadan as the month during which the prophet Muhammad received the first of the revelations that make up the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam."

Lunar calendars don't correlate to the secular Gregorian calendar, and consequently feasts and holy days calculated by a lunar method do not fall on the same Gregorian date every year. (Christian Easter is calculated on a lunar calendar, which is why it doesn't fall on the same date every year, either.)

You can see the difficulty of successfully commercializing a holiday that changes dates from year to year. It simply is not convenient to the manufacturing and retail calendars our world has adopted.

But that shouldn't prevent the followers of the world's various religions from openly and proudly celebrating their beliefs and traditions.

So, Merry Christmas!


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