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Christmas is a special time to be with family and remind them how much we love them.
A time to be thankful for our blessings. A time to set aside differences and show good will toward men.
A time to remember the plight of those less fortunate, and extend a helping hand to those who might be struggling – even if it means simply reaching into our pockets and pulling out a couple of dollars to drop in the Salvation Army’s famous red kettles perched outside grocery and department stores.
In recent years, it’s also become a time we’ve seen much debate – and, at times, invective and hostility – over public Christmas celebrations.
The problem intensified with the rise of so-called political correctness – the idea that we must mute certain ideas, values, beliefs and traditions shared by the majority of Americans, in order to avoid alienating a few. Political correctness is dictating that we acknowledge and respect the religious displays and observances of minority faith groups.
Before I go any further, let me state emphatically that respect for the observances of minority faiths is an ideal that I, too, share, as long as a minority faith doesn’t try to force me to renounce my own faith. I consider myself someone committed to treating people of different beliefs with respect. And as a public official, I believe the hallmark of a healthy system of government is the ability of people to disagree amicably – to tolerate, without taking personal offense, those who don’t necessarily share my views or values.
But what’s troubling is when some in the politically correct crowd insist – ironically, in the name of tolerance – that we expunge from our annual celebrations of Christ’s birthday the true reason for our celebration. Some prefer that we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Some write “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” which is something I’ve always struggled to understand. After all, would you send a birthday card to a friend saying “Happy Birthday, X?”
Some insist on using Xmas because the “X” comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of a Greek word that translates Christ. It’s a point worth making for America’s politically correct crowd that English is still our country’s primary language. But even in Greece, probably the Chi explanation would be hard to sell.
Several years back, the official Democratic Party organization in one South Carolina county posted a message on its website discouraging people from saying “Merry Christmas,” saying such a greeting might be considered rude to non-Christians. I won’t name the county because I’d hate to upset any of my Democratic friends from there. Plus I’ve always hoped that the message, which didn’t stay up long, was put up by a single individual and didn’t reflect the sentiment of the organization’s membership.
In truth, there’s nothing rude about saying Merry Christmas. It’s short-sighted and intolerant to suggest such.
I’m often irritated by those who exploit Christmas for their own benefit – yet cave to the demands of political correctness and avoid references to Christmas or to the deeply-held spiritual beliefs associated with it.
For example, some retail outlets seize upon the Christmas season to entice us into spending at their stores, while their advertisements proclaims Happy Holidays and they play holiday music and light holiday trees, conspicuously side-stepping any mention of Jesus’ birth.
But let’s focus on those things we’re able to control. Even as we celebrate by getting together and exchanging gifts, may we also remember to celebrate the reason baby Jesus came to Earth on that Holy Night long ago. Through Christ’s birth – and his life, death and resurrection that followed – God offered us the gift of salvation from our sins. His gift is ours if we accept it. That’s certainly worth celebrating and talking about.
Have a very Merry Christmas, and a safe and healthy New Year.
Richard Eckstrom is comptroller general of South Carolina.