Hunt: The meaning of Merry Christmas



Georgie Hunt

One of my roommates discovered who puts the presents under the tree from a group of second grade cynics who sent her home sobbing to demand an explanation from her mom. Sitting at the kitchen table for an after-school snack of chocolate cookies and milk, she swallowed the truth about Santa and slowly digested the harsh reality of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too.

I am envious of people who can remember when they realized Santa doesn’t exist. I have no idea when I found out and can’t even remember believing in him at all. But I must have believed. For whatever reason, one day we see Santa as a man dressed up in a suit. It’s scary how trust can fly from us without knowing it leaves.

If we acknowledge the folly of Santa’s jolly, why do we allow him to be the King of our Christmas? If we celebrate Christmas, it is assumed we believe in Christ, yet he takes a backseat in Santa’s sleigh. We talk about Santa even though we know he doesn’t exist, but we hardly mention Jesus when his very existence is precisely the point.

Or maybe Christmas has nothing to do with religion at all. Perhaps, Rudolph and Santa, with Jesus in the back of his sleigh, have flown over rooftops and far away, and we’re too busy celebrating to notice or care. As long as there are presents under the tree.

The guys and I were told to write about Christmas this week, as you might have noticed. Our editors didn’t tell us to write about the holiday season or suggest that we might want to award recognition to various religious traditions. The word they used was “Christmas,” but still I wonder what explicitly they meant.

Villanova is not like the supermarket where cashiers are dissuaded from speaking specifics at checkout. Here, we can say “Merry Christmas” with cheer and festivity. But when we say it, do we merely mean “Happy Holidays”? Do we consider the religious implications?

Every Christmas morning, my mom suggests we sing “Happy Birthday.” She sings enthusiastically as if serenading a fond friend, while the rest of us mumble our song, muffled inside the coffee cups from which we sip. She doesn’t necessarily care if we sing or not, but by merely proposing we do, her aim is to remind us why we sit, as though worshipping, at the foot of a chopped down tree in our living room. We pay so much attention to what’s under the tree that we neglect to notice what’s on top of it. Perhaps we didn’t think it was possible to overlook by looking under. But, nonetheless, we forget about angels and guiding lights.

Knowing she is Hindu, I asked my roommate from Mumbai, India, if she celebrates Christmas. I was surprised and admittedly confused when she said she grew up in a house with a Christmas tree and sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” at school. To her, “the new born king” is a line of lyrics, words that adorn melody and tune, like the angels and stars we hang on tree branches – decoration.

Who am I that I should want to claim Christmas for Christians or feel I have the right to say who can celebrate Christmas and who can’t? But, what harm does participation from people who do not believe and do not understand the origins of Christmas do to the authenticity of the celebration? Does it do any harm?

The truth is Christmas has become dichotomous. It is the festival of the nativity of Christ, but it is also trees and Santa and the contents of his sleigh. The threat is that perhaps we will fail to recognize the distinction between the two, permitting the second celebration to dominate and therefore allow for the relativity of Christmas. But by understanding there are two parts, we can sing “glory to the new born King,” while simultaneously viewing Christmastime as one to rejoice in the fruits of life such as family and friends. We can say “Merry Christmas” and mean both “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Holidays.”


Georgie Hunt is a junior English major from Pomfret, Conn. She can be reached at [email protected]