Small Wonders: Can you tolerate a 'Merry Christmas?'

Editor's note: While Patrick Caneday takes some time off, we’re running some of his choices for re-publication. This column was first published Dec. 5, 2009.

Let me say something that may deeply offend many of you —something so insidious and filled with controversy it has the power to tear apart a community and collapse our economy.

Merry Christmas.

That's right. I bid you good tidings of joy in this, the season we celebrate the birth of the newborn king Jesus Christ.

If you're still reading, take a shot back. I dare you. Give me your best “Happy Hanukkah,” your most heartfelt “Happy Kwanzaa.” Maybe you don't buy any of it, or you buy all of it, and the best you can do is wish me an all-inclusive “Happy Holidays.” Bring it.

The world could use all such wishes of good cheer. I'm not offended when someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays. I don't recall ever being wished a Happy Kwanzaa, but the season's young, and it's on my Christmas list.

But my wish to you will always be that you have the Merriest Christmas possible.

There can be no argument that the two primary “holidays” in “Happy Holidays” are Hanukkah and Christmas. The Jewish tradition of Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BC; Christmas, or “Christ's Mass,” was a feast day in the Christian tradition celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. In more modern times, it's become the season in which we go broke spoiling our children with new trinkets while feeling pangs of guilt for not getting Joe anything after he gave us a singing mounted fish in the company white elephant gift exchange.

I don't happen to be Jewish, so I celebrate Christmas. Not “Holiday.”

Scholars and laymen alike will argue the actual date of Christmas, quibble about the similar traditions predating Christianity, or point out the simultaneous celebrations of the winter solstice or an ancient Roman holiday. All good points. And all distraction. For most people, the cornerstone of the holiday season is Christmas, in whatever manner they choose to celebrate.

Don't just take my word for it. Trust my insurance agent. Each year he sends me a new calendar. And each year I check to see whether it says “holiday” or “Christmas” on Dec. 25. Guess what it says this year?

My calendar also shows that Hanukkah starts Dec. 12. So I wish my Jewish friends a very Happy Hanukkah indeed. The same goes for my friends celebrating Kwanzaa, may you have a truly happy one. To my Druid, ancient Roman and Seinfeld-loving friends, Happy Festivus.

There are heated debates about Christ being taken out of Christmas and the very word Christmas being taken out of the whole seasonal celebration. There are boycotts of stores that fail to mention the word Christmas in their advertising. And to those acts of civil chest-thumping, I say, “Amen.” There are few things more noble and American than exercising your 1st Amendment right to shop, or not shop, wherever you choose.

But me, I don't care whether the Gap mentions the word Christmas in the company’s TV commercials. I don't believe the true meaning of Christmas is in hearing “Little Drummer Boy” over the PA system while I graze Target for iPods, PlayStations, Barbies and the High School Musical 2 Country Club Cruiser with Sharpay Doll.

You can take the word out of the malls, the commercials and airwaves. That's fine. It doesn't belong there anyway. The word belongs in a manger in a cave in Bethlehem because there was no room at the inn. The word is where stately Magi and lowly shepherds alike bowed down to a babe, God himself sharing the sentence of our humanity so we could better know him.

I'd rather celebrate that humble birth than the stuffed wallets of corporate shareholders and Wall Street traders. My faith lies not with Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Sony or Disney, but in the word. The word made flesh.

I know not everyone shares the same belief. I don't expect them to. I accept and respect that everyone has a right to celebrate the holiday of their choice — or none at all. That's what makes this country so great. Jesus himself never forced anyone to believe in him, so neither will I.

But let me throw another divisive word at you: tolerance.

Personally, I like the word. To me, it means peace, coexistence, understanding and all the things that bring diverse people to the table to break bread. In this life, there can be nothing wrong with that. Some would argue that tolerance means overly sensitive, politically correct coddling to any minority group demanding special preference or protection. And such feelings may be justified. But I will leave that for others to argue.

No, the tolerance I am speaking of here is that in which the weary world rejoices; a time to open hearts and doors with peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, no matter our beliefs; welcoming our neighbor with a warm hug, a hot toddy, a Happy Hanukkah, Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays and especially a Merry Christmas to all.

But even if you can't tolerate this sincere sentiment, even if my desire for you to have a Merry Christmas makes you gag on your egg nog, I'm going to give it anyway.

For it's the giving that matters, right?

PATRICK CANEDAY is a Glendale native who lives and works in Burbank. Stay in touch with him on Facebook, at and

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