A regular part of Christmas for someone involved in or observing the worldwide secular movement is the inevitable accusations of a "war on Christmas" and the Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays debate that rages in the United States.
In brief: some members of American churches object when people in stores wish them "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," or if a government post says this instead. Keep Christ in Christmas is the rallying call.
The secularist response varies, but is usually along the lines of "Specifically saying Christmas excludes non-Christians" Here are a few posts about the so-called "war on Christmas" over at Hemant Mehta's Friendly Atheist Blog
Now this brings me to the main topic of today's rant. In Britain this whole debate is much more muted. Most of the people I've spoken to find the American season's greeting "Happy Holidays" somewhat mawkish and saccharine. In Britain almost everyone will say "Merry Christmas."
As I said in the preamble, this tends to be frowned upon by American secularists as it excludes not only atheists and agnostics but also Jewish people, Muslims, Hindus... in fact anyone who is not a Christian. It doesn't seem like an identical situation in Britain.
I would argue that, to a certain extent, Christmas in Britain has become a secularised festival, the newest incarnation of the Solstice celebrations. Anyone who has a basic understanding of the history of Christmas knows that it began long before Christianity was founded. The midwinter rituals of inviting the sun back now that it's got too cold consistently regenerate into new forms. Christmas is now a cultural festival of family, friends, good food, booze and in Britain, not an exclusively Christian affair. It can be enjoyed by everyone who wants to.
In Britain, Christ is no longer the focus of Christmas. I'm coming to the conclusion that the word has shifted enough that it now belongs to everyone instead of just the members of faith.
At least for the rationalists among us there is no more Christ in Christmas.
That's the end of the main body of the rant. I have some less coherent musings below...
Regarding the Happy Holiday/Merry Christmas distinction, I have a theory as to why our two countries use the different terms.
In Britain the word Holiday seems to be much more frequently used. While U.S. schools have Spring and Summer breaks, we have Easter and Summer holidays. From the little I see of American Culture (via Films, TV and a little interaction with my Yankee (A term of affection) family) 'holiday' specifically seems to refer to the winter school break and the associated festivals.
This could probably be tied to the fact that the U.S. has the Establishment Clause, while Britain is legally a Christian country... I'd love other opinions...