Posted BY: E. Jeffrey Ludwig

“Merry Christmas” as a greeting or as a cheerful blessing of citizen-to-citizen or neighbor-to-neighbor is vanishing.  Invariably, when I wish someone in a store or in my neighborhood a Merry Christmas, they respond by saying “Happy Holidays” to me.   One woman suggested to me that Christmas was religion-specific and not all people celebrate it, which is why she uses what she believes is a more neutral term.  In other words, she believes she is being kind and showing gentle respect for all people whether they be Christian or not.  She obviously did not understand that by not responding to my Merry Christmas, she was not obliging me, not showing me the “respect” that she is according to all others who give not even a passing thought to the birth of Christ. Christians are getting her much-needed greeting, but she will deny them any sense of preference.  My “Merry Christmas” to her is partisan and self-absorbed, lacking the largesse of the more neutral well wishes.

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The irony of this shift away from “religious preference” is that for most Americans Christmas has been distinctly irreligious for decades. As long ago as the 1960s — long before this writer became an evangelical believer — some of my best friends complained at the materialism of our culture. They were disturbed that Christmas had become about trees, lights, gifts, Santa Claus, and meals. At best, it was about togetherness. At worst, it indulged a commercialism that only Americans have really known. Spirituality was trumped by materialism. But my philosophical friends not only said we were mired in materialism but in runaway materialism. That was decades ago. For them, Christmas had lost its “spiritual meaning” by that decade. When did this spiritual decline begin? I was not interested in the religious significance of the holiday so I never asked for their historical assessment.

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