How I foreshadowed ‘The War on Christmas’ in 1991

Saturday, December 21, 2013
From a column I wrote for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, Dec. 21, 1991:

John Fluevog Shoes storefront, 2012  (Photo: me)
When it comes to complaining about the media, about retailers and about starting the Christmas season too early, count me out.

During this season, I delight in the music. I love the lights. I cherish the general good cheer that rears its head as soon as the last Halloween pumpkin has been smashed in the street. As far as I’m concerned, the Christmas sales can start right after Memorial Day, but ...

One small aspect of the season drives me crazy.

As a kid who grew up celebrating Christmas at the home of one grandmother and Hanukkah at the home of the other, I may be alone on this one. But consider this:

It’s Dec. 25 and I’m at one of those stores open to sell batteries or ketchup or toilet paper or some other staple that Santa neglected to deliver. I pay, take my change and say, “Thank you.”

The sales clerk says, “Have a good holiday.”

I smile, respond “Merry Christmas,” and leave.

But the words gnaw at me: Have a good holiday.

It’s Dec. 25, for crying out loud. It’s Christmas.

Say “Christmas,” if that’s what you mean. If you mean Hanukkah (which this year came much earlier), say that.

This sort of lightly seasoned greeting seems even more inappropriate on the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving — secular holidays with no other context. Please: Say “Have a good Thanksgiving!” Say “Have a good Fourth!”

To quote one of the fundamental rules of good communication: Be specific.

I understand that saying “holiday” is a way to avoid offending people who don’t observe Christmas. But, when no other holiday is on the menu, “Have a good holiday” is likely to prove just as offensive.

“Happy Holidays” is fine for greeting cards or ads aimed at a mass audience over an extended period of time.

But consider this an appeal for sincerity and specificity in personal holiday greetings.

If you’re going to wish people something, don’t serve up some mealy-mouthed platitude. Wish them what’s in your heart. And may they wish you what’s in their hearts on the holidays important to them.

Merry Christmas!