The Dangers of Saying “Happy Holidays”

18 December, 2009

Today, while in uniform (National Park Service), I (not on the clock at the time (I was out to lunch (physically, not just mentally))) wished someone “Happy holidays.”  And got a rash of shit.

“I guess Obama’s making everyone in the government deny Christmas now.”  This was said by the person behind me in line.  I was not talking to this person, I was talking to the young lady handing me my plate of Hunan chicken and fried rice.  Now, I have to admit that I was impressed that he recognized the NPS uniform (I am sick and tired of questions about Pennsylvania hunting or fishing seasons (not even close to part of my job)).  I was not impressed by the theocratic idiocy.

I turned to the older man and said, “No.  We don’t get any guidance at all regarding which of the many holiday greetings to use.  I use happy holidays because I’m not a Christian, and I have no idea whether the person I’m talking to is, or not.”

He frowned.  Then said, “Well, happy Hanukkah.”

“No.  Atheist.”

He then informed me that he would write his congressman to complain about atheists in the government and that it was atheist’s fault that the government cost so much and did so little.  He was not, however, nearly that erudite.  He was irate and getting redder and redder in the face. Apparently, the thought that an atheist could work for our Christian nation (yes, he actually said that) blew his mind.  And temper.  And blood pressure.

His wife (I assume (though since he is a right wing religio-political nut, she may have been a really old prostitute)) dragged him away muttering about his blood pressure.  He continued frothing as his woman pulled him away.

The young lady behind the counter smiled at me and, gesturing toward the frother, said, “What an asshole.  Happy holidays, sir.  And enjoy your meal.”

I have come to the conclusion that there really is a War on Christmas.  This WoC is not, however, being waged by liberals, atheists, free thinkers, Jews, Muslims, Democrats, the ACLU or the AU.  The WoC is being waged by the very people who think that they are protecting the holiday Christmas season.  By enforcing a narrow ideological interpretation of the celebration, the Christian right is alienating cultural Christians like me.  They are forcing people to make a choice — a choice between each family’s traditions and the narrowly focused evangelical interpretation.  The built-in authoritarianism of radical conservative Christianity does not tolerate heterodoxy.  Differing traditions are viewed as a threat, not a strength. 

Will the radical Christians destroy Christmas in their attempt to keep it ideologically and theologically pure?  If the asshat I met today is a representative example of the radical wing of Christianity, the answer may be yes.



  1. I wrote this for another person, but I had a sort of alike experience.

    I played yesterday at our library, I was reluctant since the ironmongery got taken out of my mouth (and I can at last eat and talk) and I’m still pretty uncomfortable. Wife, um, PERSUADED me that I should go and not beg off. Do me a lot of good…

    So, I went, and a friend of mine was there, he is a minister, but I value him as a good friend and great person. A whole lot of local kids are going to have coats and gloves, houses will have heat, and people will eat more than starch and fat because of him. And have enough at that.

    But I was playing, every three or four pieces I inserted a carol or two.

    An old geezer (well, fair do’s; he really wasn’t that much older than me ;-))came over and was telling me how much he enjoyed it.

    Then he asked wasn’t I afraid some atheist would come in and raise a stink. There I was, playing christmas music in a public place, “The Atheists” were sure to come in and cause problems, just wanted to spoil things, tear things down. And so on.

    Then he went over to my wife and the preacher (who he knew) and began the same thing. My preacher friend said something to him and he pulled up short. Old guy said something to my wife, she said something.

    He ran over to me, and…said angry, hurtful things. I said,

    “You’re welcome, sir, glad ya enjoyed it. Oh, and merry christmas”!

    He left in a High Dudgeon. (He should be careful, due to the center of gravity they’re murder on curves!)

    My wife told me that he had come over and was hocking them with his views, and Stan told him he didn’t think that ‘atheists would be a problem, in fact the harpist WAS an atheist. Just ask the lady (my wife). “The Lady” told him it was true, I’d been a non-theist when we met in 1963, was one when we married in 1968, and although I hadn’d made a philosophical declaration between getting out of bed that morning and that present moment, the odds were I retained such a non-belief.

    He began to remonstrate again, but Stan told him that besides me, he knew of four other atheists in the room and the only person behaving like an ass over the music was this elderly gentleman. Would he kindly shut his mouth? Please?

    And I got to bait a jerk with kind words! Life doesn’t get much better…

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Larro, Holey Hands. Holey Hands said: RT @Larro: (((Billy))) The Atheist – The Dangers of Saying “Happy Holidays” http://clct.me/t3cIV […]

  3. “I have come to the conclusion that there really is a War on Christmas. This WoC is not, however, being waged by liberals, atheists, free thinkers, Jews, Muslims, Democrats, the ACLU or the AU. The WoC is being waged by the very people who think that they are protecting the holiday Christmas season. ”

    You’re absolutely right, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been thinking. It’s gotten to the point that “Merry Christmas” is not a greeting but a battering ram, and a directive to kowtow to one particular special interest group. They’re doing nothing but inspiring the very animosity they claim they’re fighting, because people are getting sick of the virulent hostility and abject lunacy.

  4. Once again, on the money. The only ones making war on Christmas are the fundamentalist asshats trying to impose their narrow, hateful views on everyone else.

    I wonder why some people are so insistent that the government is anti-Christmas? If Obama’s so anti-Christmas, why is the White House full of Xmas trees, and why is there a tree lighting ceremony every year? Or if I am pointing out stuff the asshats prefer to pretend doesn’t exist?

  5. It’s actually a war on special privilege, and as the unfairly privileged, they’re certainly going to fight back when their ill-begotten gains are taken away from them.

    • Agreed.

  6. The WoC is being waged by the very people who think that they are protecting the holiday Christmas season.

    The pathetic thing is, they haven’t got a clue that they’re killing their cause with friendly fire.

  7. I agree wholeheartedly that the liberal left expecialy atheists, are waging a war aginast Christians and the celbration of Christmas. that said, this person was out of line and acting in a disctincly nonChristian manner. Christianity is a religion of Love and inclusiveness for all humans beings. Christianity has never been about intolerance bigotry, or anger. It is about the Love of God as expressed through our Savior Jesus Christ. Yelling at people, telling them thay are wrong, insulting people, denigrating people are not the way to bring sinners the Good News of Jesus. Christians cannot succed by adoptint the tactics ofthe intollerant and racist left.

    Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • “The intollerant and racist left”
      Yeah. I know what you mean. I’ve met him.

    • Yeah, that’s why women and gay bishops are so warmly received.

      Happy Holiday

  8. How are we waging war on christmas, Matthew?

    “Christianity has never been about intolerance bigotry, or anger.”

    Did you just up and forget about 500 CE to, oh, about the end of the Civil Rights Movement? Scratch that, they’re still going, see the Manhattan Declaration.

  9. Sarge: I’ve said it before: you need to start a blog (or write a book) so you can inflict all these priceless stories on posterity. Amazing how often the most religious can be the most asshatish.

    Buffy: Then again, abject lunacy seems to be a frequent theme when discussing certaintypes of Christians and Christianity.

    Nan: Odd that Obama seems to be more commited to Christianity (albeit a more liberal form) than Reagan was, yet Reagan is the darling of the godbots.

    Damn, Philly, you did it again. The perfect phrase to describe the idiocy.

    ProgressiveScholar: Thanks for visiting. Are you always this verbose?

    Chappie: Just like Afghanistan, Vietnam, and sundry other wars for hearts and minds.

    Matthew: I’ll let the Albigensians know that Christianity is welcoming and tolerant. That’ll help them lie more quietly. In their graves.

    MO: If the ignorant and racist left, that would be fine with me.

    Dennis: Glad you could stop by. I don’t think anyone has been able to get Matthew to coherently explain any position he has taken.

  10. Well, I’ve lurked a long while, not much of a commenter. You write a good blog.

  11. (I love Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series.)

  12. ildi:
    I love that series too.

  13. Looks like your website is under attack from supernatural forces…


    you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

  14. Even when I still believed, if I didn’t know what holiday someone celebrated, I just said “Happy Holidays.”

    It’s a simple matter of being considerate– I don’t tell people “Happy Birthday” on my birthday, because it’s not their fucking birthday, and it’d be obnoxious of me to assume they are celebrating MY birthday.

    Why should celebrating Christmas, Kwanza, Ramadan, or Chanukah be any different?

  15. Dennis: thanks.

    Ildi and Chappie: ?

    Lifey: Being considerate of other’s points of view appears, for today’s most Christian Christians, to be missing. But if we, as liberal or non-Christians fail to bend over backwards, give them whatever they want and offer to help pay for it, we are being inconsiderate.

    • Yes, but you see if you object to their behavior that’s religiously motivated, you’re being intolerant and infringing on their right to practice their religion. That’s the UN’s stance on objecting to Islamic nonsense and it’s something the Religious Right here are exploiting as well. That’s how they justify denying gays equal rights, for instance. It’s also how religious organizations got permission to discriminate when hiring.

      • So this is a religious version of “It’s Okay if You Are Republican”?

  16. Nevada Barr used to be a park ranger, and now she writes murder mysteries set in national parks. Her main character, Anna Pigeon, is a park ranger (natch). I like the combination of feisty protagonist, national parks, and murders. Scary, gripping scenes, especially the one where she dives to a sunken ship in Lake Superior, survives a forest fire, is abandoned in a cave, falls off the edge of a cliff… I also think she accurately captures what it’s like to be a lowly bureaucrat. She’s one of the authors whose works I buy in hardback and re-read often.

    They do follow her life, so if you care about such things, I recommend starting with the first one Track of the Cat.

  17. Oh, did I mention that the character Anna is an atheist? A bit unusual to find in mainstream U.S. fiction. From an interview with Nevada Barr in the WSJ in 2003:

    The 51-year-old author, born and raised in rural Nevada by non-churchgoing parents, says that she herself was an atheist until her early 40s, when a sort of emotional earthquake caused her to seek refuge one snowy winter’s eve in an Episcopal church in Durango, Colo.

    “It was the winter I think of 1994,” recalls Ms. Barr, who published her first Anna Pigeon book in 1993. “I’d moved back to Durango to try to patch things up with my ex-husband, and things were not going well. I was out wandering around in the snow before Christmas, feeling sorry for myself, and saw this big window all lit up. I was just going to knock on the doors and have them be closed and pathetically trudge away–yeah, I was wallowing–and the doors were open. And there were some women having a little ceremony. I turned to immediately run–and they caught me.”

    She kept returning each week for companionship and distraction, Ms. Barr says, despite her lack of a belief in God. “Then slowly I began to understand the value of coming together in community.”


    Although she calls herself a Christian now, Ms. Barr acknowledges that she might not be so considered by other Christians, since she sees Jesus (like Buddha and others) as a prophet to be emulated rather than as the one true son of God. But she says her fellow Episcopalians in Mississippi are comfortable with her position. “They’re very open-minded about people thinking about and questioning things. I talked to my priest, and he said, ‘If you come to church and you pray, you’re a Christian. Period.’ “


    And the author–married now for eight years to her second husband, a retired park ranger–says she has no intention of forcing her series heroine toward some concept of monotheism akin to her own. “She just doesn’t seem to be leaning that way. . . . And if you break your own character rules, it’s bad art.”

    But that doesn’t mean that Nevada Barr is letting Anna Pigeon off the hook: “I have been bringing religious people across her path, just to see what happens. . . . I think I will enjoy tormenting her with Christians.”

  18. Ildi: I’m familiar with the Nevada Barr series. Not wild about them, though (Park Rangers I know are basically evenly devided). I was just wondering the connection between the comments before and the Anna Pigeon comment. I just figure I missed something (and continue to miss it).

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