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Of Christmas and the Holiday-ers

I’m not too sure why I’m feeling blue, as I walk along Queens Boulevard on my way to Target Store, even if everybody is greeting each other “Happy Holidays.” Something isn’t quite right. As soon as I enter the store, I am met by the same greeting at the door, at the general merchandise section, at the grocery section, by the hanging banners and posters: “Happy Holidays” -- until at the counter somebody taps me by my shoulder from behind and says “Merry Christmas, Mr. Manny!”

It’s my former work colleague Ali. I have not seen him in years. The greeting is music to my ears. Suddenly the blues go away. It feels like the early winter morning breeze.

When we were office-mates, Ali always greeted me Merry Christmas, my preferred greeting. This time, however, it means a lot because it comes at a time when people are trying to replace Merry Christmas with the more politically correct greeting of the Happy Holiday-ers, and I’m not too happy about it.

What’s the big deal? Why do I take issue with the new greeting?

Because we’re celebrating the birthday of Christ, that’s why.

* * *

While driving home, I notice the dearth of Christmas lights on the windows along Queens Boulevard.

“It isn’t what it used to be,” I tell my wife Delia.

I’m not alone to notice. Yesterday morning while waiting in line to pay the cashier at the Keyfood grocery I overheard an elderly couple complain that Christmas is no longer what it used to be, that times they were indeed a-changin’ -- boy did I relate with them, and mind you, not just because of the way they said it in the sing-song Bob Dylan tone of my generation.

We can’t ignore it. Just turn on the television or read the newspapers and you will see all the negativism spewed around us.

I am sure many friends and relatives will be absent at the Christmas dinner table because of current divisions and frictions -- from vaccine mandates to political beliefs of the left and the right to pro-lifers vs pro-choicers to gender equality issues, and so on.

What bothers me, however, is why there are people trying to destroy the real meaning of Christmas by protesting against the display of the manger and crosses. I am also not too comfortable with people tearing down historical statues here, and what about this news from the Philippines about a new design for the 1,000 peso bill that will replace World War II heroes Jose Abad Santos, Josefa Llanes Escoda, and Vicente Lim by the Philippine Eagle.

At the same time that we are taking down crosses and heroes from our walls, a gigantic statue of an animal closely resembling the “beast” in the book of Revelation (Rev 13:2) is unveiled, as if on cue, in front of the United Nations Headquarters here in New York.

The UN says the statue is donated by the government of Oaxaca, Mexico, and stands as A Guardian of International Peace and Security. I wonder aloud: what if a statue of the True Prince of Peace (Jesus) were put there instead?

Indeed, when I first heard about this “beast,” I could not believe my ears, so I asked my nephew working at the UN to take a close-up photo of it to confirm if this was for real or just fake news. What he sent me is a picture of one of the most grotesque statues I have ever seen in my life.

Why are there not many people complaining against this monstrosity? It is not even mentioned in mainstream media.

And yet here we are with people complaining that greeting each other Merry Christmas might be disrespectful of our diversity of cultures, that it might leave other traditions out, that it might be too exclusive, and all that jazz.

In short, we must not say Merry Christmas because we do not want to offend other religions, like Islam.

I don’t quite get it. Anyway, it’s getting windy, dark and cold outside. I’m glad we’re home. Traffic was unexpectedly light today. In my hurry, I almost forgot I need to inject my pet cat’s (Kitkat) insulin. I have not turned the lights on my Christmas tree outside yet but that’s all right. Decorations are not what Christmas is all about.

Christmas has not actually changed. While this Christmas may not be quite the same, we cannot deny the true spirit of the season. In our heart of hearts, I think we are not really missing the true spirit of Christmas. It is still the same if we celebrate it the right way if our hearts are in the right place and they’d be in the right place if we greeted each other the right way.

That is why am I unwilling to remove the word “Christmas.”

Because we’re celebrating the birthday of Christ, period.

I sit by the heater while listening to Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song. It is snowing lightly outside my window. I open my old family album and look at the faded black-and-white picture of our family beside the lighted belén with gift-wrapped boxes on the floor. It is a much-loved picture. It is a picture that captures the times when our lives were so simple and so happy. I miss my parents and grandparents and the other family members who are now celebrating Christmas in heaven. It tears me up a bit each time, and it feels like the early winter morning breeze.

Like the chance meeting my former co-worker Ali this morning who, deliberately ignoring political correctness, greeted me the way I’ve always preferred to be greeted, the way it’s been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas To You!

Ali, by the way, is a devout Muslim.


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