Happy Holidays, Mr. President

Dear President Trump,

I write to wish you and your family happy holidays, in the truest, fullest sense of that phrase.

Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas
I don’t know how much bigger your tax refund will be in 2018, but maybe you can set part of it aside to buy a copy of Stephen Nissenbaum’s social and cultural history of Christmas, a key source for Neil’s piece…

While you’ve tried often to convince our fellow Christians that “happy holidays” is part of a secular war on our faith, I hope your aversion to fake news will not keep you from reading historian Neil J. Young’s op-ed in today’s L.A. Times. For in it you’ll find that “Merry Christmas” was originally part of a late 18th century “act of revelry and religious rebellion, something the uncouth masses shouted as they traveled in drunken mobs” — a protest against the older Puritan antipathy for Christmas. A few decades later, when “retailers, authors and artists in the 19th century invented a holiday of conspicuous consumption and family-centered celebrations, ‘Merry Christmas” became the favored slogan to sell the day.” Meanwhile, Neil points out:

…observant Christians just as routinely wished each other “Happy holidays.” “Holiday” is a religious word, after all, derived from the Old English word for “holy day.” Plus, “Happy holidays” may indicate the entire Advent season, suggesting a more devout reverence for the season than “Merry Christmas.”

So I do wish you happy holidays: the sacred Jewish festival that your daughter and son-in-law just concluded, but also the Christian seasons of Advent and Christmas.

May you keep holy days that are set apart from the usual cycles of politics and business for remembering the birth of Emmanuel, God with Us, and for anticipating his return as the “ruler of the kings of the earth.”

Wherever you — like me, like us all — have fallen short this year, may Advent remind you that this God offers mercy “for those who fear him from generation to generation.” However alluring the temptations of your position, may Advent teach you that this God “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts… has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.”

Then may Christmas find you — like me, like us all — bent low alongside a maiden, a carpenter, and shepherds, not perched high on anything like Herod’s throne. This Christmas may you offer that child sincere homage, not the manipulative pieties of that fearful narcissist, whose violent rage would make our Redeemer a refugee.

Jesus Mafa,
Cameroonian painting of “The birth of Jesus with the shepherds” – Creative Commons (Vanderbilt Divinity Library)

And so, Mr. President, may these holy days leave you truly happy.

In English New Testaments, that adjective is applied to only one person: the corrupt official Zacchaeus, whom Luke says hurried down from his perch above the masses and “was happy to welcome” Jesus to his home, an encounter that left that wealthy man eager to give to the poor and make amends for his fraudulent behavior.

May you — may I, may we all — experience that happiness these days, such that all who see it will likewise “grumble and [say, “Jesus] has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” For truly in 2017, as two thousand years before, “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Happy holidays,

Chris Gehrz

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