Shortly after Thanksgiving, everyone in my house came down sick and stayed that way for several weeks. Needless to say, that delayed our Christmas preparations.
Christmas shopping wasn't a problem; we don't go overboard with presents for our kids so we already had most of them purchased, with a few clicks online finishing up the job. But we haven't been able to decorate until now.
Add to that the fact that we've moved so often over the past few years, and we haven't really decorated for Christmas since 2008. We had a Christmas tree for our son's first Christmas (which, since he was only eight months old, he obviously doesn't remember), but our daughter's never seen one in her own house. This year we decided to put one up, but we discovered over the weekend that our Christmas tree stand got left behind in one of the four moves we've had since we last used it.
Have you ever tried to find a Christmas tree stand the week before Christmas? My husband went to several stores to discover that they were sold out, and called even more only to be told the same thing. When I went out looking, I found more of the same, plus in some cases I had to walk around store employees removing Christmas decorations from the shelves to make room for their next wave of inventory (thankfully they're not yet putting out pink and red heart-shaped objects for Valentine's Day--that'll probably come in about two weeks).
Removing Christmas inventory the week before Christmas? You know the classic song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas?" Those twelve days start on December 25 and continue through January 5, the night before Epiphany. That's the traditional celebration of Christmas, with Advent being the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I realize that the stores have been selling Christmas since before Halloween, but some of us actually try to celebrate Advent, and keep Christmas for Christmas. Even if we hadn't been sick, our decorating would have happened only a few days sooner than it did. So while the stores may be tired of it, some of us are just getting started.
Fortunately the evening was saved by Home Depot. They had a few tree stands left, so I was able to save my husband from having to try to 'build' something to hold up the tree that was dejectedly sitting on our porch. Furthermore, the cashier at Home Depot actually wished me a "Merry Christmas." Not "Happy Holidays," but a real "Merry Christmas." It was so refreshing to hear! And then I also got a "Merry Christmas" from the clerk at the store in the mall that sold me a lighted star tree topper (another item that's hard to come by a week before Christmas).
It's common and even expected for Christians and quasi-Christians to lament about the consumerism of Christmas, how early the stores start selling it, and the decline of the religious meaning of the holiday. We hear so much about how people who aren't religious Christians get offended when wished a "Merry Christmas," insisting instead on "Happy Holidays," which supposedly honors Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Conspicuous Consumption Day, and whatever else people choose to celebrate around the end of December. Now I agree that it's a bit foolish and insensitive for a sales clerk to wish a Merry Christmas to a customer purchasing a menorah, but in the absence of something so obvious, what's wrong with wishing a Merry Christmas to someone who is purchasing Christmas paraphernalia?
Chanukah has always been its own holiday, and should certainly be respected. Kwanzaa was originally created "as an alternative to Christmas," and Conspicuous Consumption Day is clearly a secular hijacking of the religious holiday. As such, I think it's perfectly appropriate to wish a "Merry Christmas" to anyone engaging in celebrating Christmas in any way, even if they've appropriated various aspects of the Christmas celebration for a holiday of their own creation. Does this mean that every purchase between Thanksgiving and Christmas should automatically be met with a "Merry Christmas?" Not necessarily. But anyone buying Christmas decorations (trees, ornaments, yard lights, etc.), Christmas cards (any card that doesn't specifically call out Chanukah or Kwanzaa), a ton of toys, or anything featuring snowmen, Santa Claus, Thomas Kinkade artwork, or old-fashioned people skating or riding in horse-drawn sleighs is fair game.
So to the clerks who wished me a "Merry Christmas" last night--thank you! Please keep up the good work! You might slightly offend someone who wants to celebrate Christmas without acknowledging its origins as a religious holiday, but you also might bring some joy and hope to a Christian who is trying to remember that Christmas is the celebration of God's breaking into human history by sending his Son to achieve salvation for us all. It's amazing how just calling the holiday by its right name can go such a long way towards helping with that.