Happy Holyday

This Christmas season is just getting stranger as we go.

All over the place people are trying to figure out what to say to each other (“Happy holiday(s),” “Merry Christmas,” “Get out of my way, I want that iPod”) and how to talk about the time of year we are in. I tried saying Happy December to a few people and they just rolled their eyes. I agree; it didn’t do much for me either.

Schools are hotbeds for these kinds of scuffles. One school near Seattle spent $494 to reprint a cafeteria menu that had Merry Christmas on it. The news account in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer said “a new nutrition services employee mistakenly prepared them (the menus) with the greeting ‘Merry Christmas.’” Apparently, the new nutrition services employee missed an important part of the job orientation.

Another Seattle-area school district had a problem with a Christmas tree. Some shrewd people at Medina Elementary are aware that far away from the tolerant halls of the public school some children still celebrate Christmas. Thus, they put paper mittens labeled with gift ideas on the tree to serve as buying prompts for the students. Children were to take them and bring back the wrapped gifts to distribute to needy children as Christmas presents. Not on tax payer funded school time of course.

The whole plan was undone by some thoughtless and probably bigoted person who put a star on the top of the tree, thus giving the tree an eerie and palpably offensive resemblance to a religious symbol. Naturally a parent complained and the school staff resourcefully covered up the star on the tree, calling it a “giving tree.” Brilliant.

However, the affront to the sensibilities of the offended parent was not assuaged by this clever subterfuge. And now, the tree is gone. In the nonspecific spirit of the nonspecific season, the school is continuing to distribute paper mittens and accept donations at the counter in the office. The school office manager explained: “We covered the star and called it a giving tree. We hoped it would suffice, but it didn’t,” Chris Metzger said. “Now we just have a giving counter.”

I can hear the school holiday program now. Instead of the strains of “O Christmas Tree,” the children will sing: “O Giving Counter, O Giving Counter, How Shiny is Thy Surface.”

Speaking of catchy and inclusive holiday pageant tunes, an elementary school district in Wisconsin caught flack over their presentation of the play “The Little Tree’s Christmas Gift.” In the play, an unwanted Christmas tree sings a song called “Cold in the Night.” The words are “Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm.” These words are to be sung to the tune of “Silent Night” (for those of you who don’t know or remember, Silent Night is a Christmas carol).

My sympathy goes out to the little tree. But not everyone was touched.

After receiving significant heat, both in the night and the day, the school district warmed to the idea of including the real Silent Night in the school program. And so, the school’s Winter-time celebrations included Santa, Kwanza, Chanukah, a Christmas witch, and the Holy Infant, so tender and mild, sleeping in Heavenly peace.

All of this holiday happiness got me thinking. What is a holiday anyway?

The dictionary reminds us that holiday is derived from two words: holy and day. A holy day. So at root, a holiday is a day set aside for religious observance. Seems like we’ve come full circle.

Here’s how I am going to think of it. When folks say “happy holidays,” they are really wishing me a pleasant holy observance. In my tradition, during December, that would be Christmas. I appreciate that. And I will smile to myself knowing that one cannot completely avoid the reason for the season, even when tolerantly trying to do so.

In any case, whatever your holy tradition, here is wishing everyone a Happy Holyday.