I was startled to notice this morning that I first posted this five years ago --- five years ago yesterday, to be exact. Startled because the Food Network is still doing the kind of weird crap I describe here, and because I can republish it with minimal revision. I have changed the style a little to elevate the tone of moral disgust, also to add a new item at the end.
Watching the Food Network a couple of days after Thanksgiving, I noticed something that gave me the creeps. None of the regulars seemed to be able to say "Christmas." (No, this is not some Bill O'Reilly war-against-Christmas BS! At least I hope not. Please read on!) Tyler Florence pours red and green sauces on on enchilada and Guy Fieri says, "Boy those are some holiday colors!" Sandra Lee is wearing a red sweater and making evergreen-tree-shaped cookies, and she keeps calling the "holiday cookies."
Right away I got this weird feeling. These people are not free. Someone off-camera is pointing a gun at them. The evil gnomes who run the Food Network Corporate Borg are compelling them to speak this weird jargon, probably just to degrade and humiliate them. (This could also explain those creepy claymation figures -- see the picture above.) Is this going on at other channels? Has the whole world gone insane while I was paying attention to other things? I really don't know, as Food Network is almost the only channel I can stand to watch (and it sucks, but I won't go into that now).
What could possibly be the problem with saying the word "Christmas" in public? Below are some more or less random observations on this baffling question. Most of what I am about to say is pretty obvious and far from original, but I think it is worth saying anyway. Apparently, it is not obvious to some people.
Yes, not everyone celebrates Christmas. And it might, conceivably, just barely conceivably, be unpleasant to be wished "Merry Christmas" when you do not. As a university professor, I sometimes find myself in a room full of people who are talking about how bad conservatives, Republicans, or libertarians are, as if they assume I am a Democrat like themselves. So I have some sympathy for people in that situation. But not very much. After all, the people in my roomful of Democrats are saying that people like me are morally or intellectually inferior to people like them. They are insulting me. The person who wishes you Merry Christmas is not. In fact, he or she is wishing you well. They are trying to be nice.
My Golden Rule is: Never, ever make someone sorry that they were nice to you. Centuries ago, Thomas Hobbes said that this is one of the most basic rules of civil society. He was right Violating it is one of the most ignoble and stupid things you can do.
The problem is not that there are other holidays at this time of the year. You can celebrate more than one. In our house, we always celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. Holidays don't exclude on another, religions do. By wishing somebody a Merry Christmas, or using the word to describe a cookie, you are not excluding anybody from anything.
Admittedly it is true that Kwanzaa was invented by the Marxist Prof. Ron Karenga as an "alternative" -- his word -- to Christmas. He did intend his holiday to be exclusionist. But apparently, the African-Americans who celebrate it today do not see it that way. (As often happens, the hearts of "ordinary" people have proved sounder than those of the supposedly wise men who seek to lead them for their own good.)
Nor is the problem that not everyone is a Christian. Even atheists love Christmas. As I have said, the problem, so far as there is one, is merely that not everyone celebrates Christmas. So try avoid wishing Merry Christmas to someone who does not celebrate it.
Often, banning the C-word is simply hypocrisy. None of the FN "holiday" specials that I saw contained a single reference to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or anything but Christmas. By banning the C-word, they are pretending to an inclusiveness that they do not practice. To the minor sin of non-inclusiveness they add the major one of lying about it.
If you are talking about a holiday, and the holiday in question is indeed Christmas, there is no possible harm in calling it that. There is no excuse for saying "holiday cookie." None. If it is shaped like a dredl, call it a Hanukkah cookie. If it is shaped like one of those trees, call it a Christmas cookie. If you don't, you'll just sound like an idiot.
Please join me this "holiday" season in trying to avoid this canting hypocrisy.
Update: And now, here is fellow atheist Penn Jillette, with a different take. Notice that he is not answering the sort of argument I am giving here. He is answering the O'Reilly notion that this is an "attack on Christianity." That of course is not what I am saying. On the other hand, he does seem to be saying one thing that I have been arguing against: that refraining from "Christmas" is being inclusive.