I first planned to talk some more about notebooks, but I feel this is important as well. There are several seasons greetings you can use throughout the holiday season, but my default will be Merry Christmas for a long time. And I’ll explain why below. This is purely my opinion and if I know that someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I’ll go for Happy Holidays. All of this is personal and context related.
I already talked a little about Christmas in the Netherlands, but I have to dig a little deeper if I want to explain why Merry Christmas is my go-to seasonal greeting. Like so many other nations in Europe, the Netherlands is also founded as a Christian country. Heck, Protestantism was born here. But nowadays, we’re not a church-going people. The majority won’t go to church and most of those who do only go to Christmas mass. I believe that the Christmas that we celebrate now has little to do with the birth of Jesus.
I’m not judging since I’m not Christian. Not Catholic, not protestant. But I went to a Protestant school and have heard the story of Jesus’ birth at least six times and went to church for a special service for our school more than once. My father was a Muslim, but he stopped being an active follower when he moved here. I learned to respect people of other religions and I’ll still wish people a Merry Christmas.
How Christmas became kerst
So how did Christmas develop in a Christian country if Jesus isn’t at its centre? Well, the December celebrations were never Christian, to begin with. The church hijacked the Yuletide festivities and claimed it as their own. The actual birthday of Jesus is probably in July or August, not in December. But the church wanted to stop the Yule celebrations of the ‘heathens’ and said it was now part of their tradition. The lack of education on all fronts made it easy for people to believe, but old Yuletide traditions stayed in place. Do you have a Christmas tree up?
When the commercial kind of Christmas came over from the USA, we still changed a few things. Santa Claus became the ‘kerstman’ (Christmas man) since we already have our jolly old fellow based on the story of Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas). Christmas slowly began to less tied to the birth of Jesus, and celebrate certain values instead of just one thing or person. The commercial side blew over as well. People started putting presents under the tree, but Santa’s myth was never told.
When we talk about kerst (Christmas) we refer to the two days at the end of December that most companies are closed and you have a few days off. Chances are that if you work in hospitality or retail you still have to work. For some employees, it’s a great opportunity to earn some extra since wages are higher on these days.
The Christmas values of family, compassion and gratitude are high this season. This is the image the companies are trying to sell. It’s the context they are creating for Christmas. Most religious ties are gone and Christmas is merely Christmas and every family has its own traditions. But most people will celebrate these days in their own way. With family, food or going to church. Maybe they just want to stay in and enjoy an extra weekend, holed up reading books or playing games. When I say Merry Christmas, I mean ‘have tons of fun on these two days’. Do whatever you want, what makes you happy. The words Merry Christmas aren’t as heavily loaded as somewhere else.
So don’t hate me when I say Merry Christmas. I’m not the kind of person who would say that to a Jew or Muslim. If I’m not sure what to say to the person standing in front of me, I’ll go for Happy Holidays unless they say Merry Christmas first. But I’ll also won’t feel offended if someone corrects me. I hope that others also have the patience with me and won’t immediately attack me.