Has Christmas become a dirty word?
Darcy Wintonyk, ctvbc.ca
Published Tuesday, December 14, 2010 11:32AM PST
After years of celebrating the more politically correct "festive season" or "happy holidays," the phrase "Merry Christmas" just may be poised for a comeback.
Some experts believe the term Christmas is set for a resurgence after nearly becoming extinct under what they call a crushing weight of political correctness.
But to understand why it's coming back, it's important to look at just how and why Christmas became a bit of a dirty word in the first place.
Don Grayston, professor emeritus of humanities at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, believes it started with a sweeping movement towards inclusiveness in Canada coupled with a backlash against extremist Christianity.
He said many mainstream Christians initially moved away from the term Christmas as a way to distance themselves from the more fundamentalist members of the religion, "the ones who use the word Christmas in an in-your-face way."
"The conservatives were saying ‘hey, what about Jesus?' and that makes most people, especially people who aren't religious, bristle a bit," he told ctvbc.ca.
Related: CTV 2010 Holiday Guide
Grayston dismisses the idea that all religions get the cold shoulder during the holiday season, but rather that Christianity gets a bad reputation because that's what the majority of Canadians identify themselves as -- 85-per-cent, according to our last census.
"Put it this way, for a politician there's no advantage to being photographed at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but going to something like a Diwali party could be seen as showing your diversity," Grayston said.
"It's almost like you're not being diverse or accepting by doing something that occupies a hegemony or power position in society."
Not saying sorry
Earlier this month, a school district in B.C.'s Fraser Valley changed its school calendar to restore the term "Christmas Holidays" over the more politically correct "Winter Break."
While the teachers' association said it wasn't appropriate because not every child celebrates the holiday, trustee Heather Maahs shrugged aside the notion people in other cultures may object to the use of the term Christmas if they don't participate in it.
"People have been congratulating me on the move. I've yet to hear a complaint," Maahs told ctvbc.ca.
Don Grayston agrees, saying most people in their own religious communities are comfortable hearing it and understand that just because people say it "doesn't mean they have to believe in it."
"They say ‘you have your religion and we have ours," he said. "You don't see anyone getting mad if a Jewish person says ‘Happy Chanukah.'"
Maahs equated the move to reflect the religious holiday again in the public school system to a "political correction backlash" in Canada.
"In the interests of making everyone comfortable we've tossed out the traditions we have used in the country for so many years," she said. "We're taking Christmas back and not hurting anyone in the process."
Selling Christmas to the masses
Just as part of the disappearance of Christmas can be chalked up from a move away from embracing Pagan imagery, marketing experts believe at least some of its revival hinges on reasserting Christian beliefs in the face of uncertain global times.
SFU marketing guru Lindsay Meredith says in global recessions or slow economic recoveries, as we see now, there becomes a mass reversion into traditional values.
"The good old days, so to speak," he said
Holiday advertisements do their best to capitalize on our collective longing for these traditional scenes, of children hanging stockings by the tree to parents putting out cookies for Santa to eat after he shimmies down the chimney.
In this way, marketers are not only selling the products that help the masses create those perfect Christmas moments but also sell the idea that the consumerism comes secondary to what's most important to all of us: spending time with your loved ones.
"So smart marketers will push the idea of the happy Christmas, Christmas values -- because it's really Christian values," Meredith said. "It's subtle, but it's there. It's cashing in on our goodwill."
Ho-ho-hold the moderation
Just as mainstream Christians sought to back away from their extreme counterparts, Meredith says people are now trying to distance themselves from the trend of extreme political correctness that swept North America and Europe.
"We're seeing a standpoint that says the political correctness stuff went too far so now suddenly we're seeing people saying Christmas again," he said.
Meredith believes there is a new pushback brewing, this time against moderateness.
"Any extremist position in society is usually countered by a push from people that say ‘hey, we're not one of those," he said.
But just as the pendulum swept all the way to politically correct, Meredith says there's also a danger of going too much in the other direction: Christmas overload.
"There is such a thing as too much of a good thing."
Have your say: Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?