Apparently, the seasonal Google Doodle has sparked off the “age-old” (really?) debate about whether we should wish each other “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.
One side in the debate say that it’s about being respectful to others’ beliefs or unbeliefs: the other side says that it’s ridiculous not to recognise the Christian origin of the festival.
Indeed, one comment begins “It is about time we stop the happy holidays and remember that Christmas has been the American way from the beginning of our nation.” I was quite amused at that idea – given that celebration of Christmas was illegal in many parts of New England until 1681, and eighteenth century New Englanders viewed Christmas as the representation of royal officialdom, external interference in local affairs, dissolute behavior, and an impediment to their holy mission.
So, what should the view of Epicurean Humanists be to this season? I’m hesitant to prescribe any particular attitude, but Epicurus is reported to have said that the philosopher “will take more delight than other people in public festivals”.
We come from a variety of religious backgrounds – Anglican, Christadelphian, Catholic and Atheist, to name just the ones that come to mind – so there’s unlikely to be any unanimity on the basis of past practice.
The purpose of EH is to pursue what makes for well-being, so our decisions about this issue should be made on that basis. My own attitude is that, if I were to refuse the celebration, I would be guilty of posturing. A festival of magnanimity is entirely fitting for those of us dedicated to a philosophy of friendship and of the enjoyment of what this world has to offer.
We would be wise, though, to avoid the festival of guilt-tripping, consumerism and hollow merriment. These pictures from the BBC just make my heart sink: these crowds are victims of the retail companies, which make them dance to the tune “Jingle Tills”. They could be relaxing at home in a warm fug of happy contentment. Instead they are getting up long before dawn and queuing in the depths of winter to crowd into shops and buy trash.
Enjoying what the world has to offer shouldn’t mean dissipation and luxury – it should be about taking delight in what we have. As the Bible says: “better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred withal”. Replace “stalled ox” with “roast turkey” and you have, I suggest, a perfectly Epicurean sentiment.
So. Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, full of companionship and games, pleasure and rest. If you have scruples about using religious terms then, by all means, allow me to wish you Happy Holidays and a fruitful new year.