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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

December 16, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 168




Pat Morrison Happy Holidays? Bah, humbug!

Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

The message light on my phone was blinking when I returned home from midnight Mass in the wee hours of Christmas morning last year. It was my first Christmas in Kansas City, and while I couldn't be together with out-of-state family and friends, we were connecting by card and phone and e-mail.

Other Today's Takes by Pat Morrison
Dec. 15, 2003 Finding Saddam, losing Mazen
Oct. 3, 2003 (Un)happy anniversary, intifada
Oct. 2, 2003 Multi-taskers have a heavenly mentor
Oct. 1, 2003 An ordinary life sparks an unlikely revolution
Aug. 14, 2003 Women's realities, Mary's feast
Aug. 13, 2003 Maybe it's time to change pews
As I pressed the button to see whose call I had missed on Christmas Eve, I was totally caught by surprise at the voice that greeted me. "Hello, Pat! Here, Walid and family to wish you a happy birthday of Prophet Jesus! Have a good your Christmas!"

Walid, a Palestinian American, is a devout Muslim, my former "gas station guy" in Toledo, Ohio. Over the years we moved from polite business small talk ("Looks like we're in for more rain") to wonderful conversations about life and faith, religion and politics. Walid invited me to an open house and summer carnival at his mosque; I invited his wife to an interfaith tea, Walid to an evening of Muslim-Catholic dialogue.

Like an eighth-grade dance, our first efforts at getting to know and understand one another better were a bit clumsy and self-conscious. But as time went on, we grew better at it. We came to recognize, despite our differences, how much we held in common.

I was deeply touched that my first phone call on Christmas came from a Muslim friend, wishing "happy birthday" to Jesus, whom I worship as God incarnate, and whom Walid as a Muslim reveres as a great prophet.

We don't share the same belief about Jesus or Christmas, but that didn't prevent my Muslim friend from wishing me joy on my religious celebration.

I'm not Jewish, but I wish my Jewish friends Happy Hanukkah. I send my Muslim friends Eid cards at the close of Ramadan fasting. But those of us who do that, I think, are becoming endangered species.

Happy Eid! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

Have you noticed how those greetings for various religious celebrations have gone the way of the politically correct "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays"?

Watch TV commercials this time of year for just 10 minutes, or scan the ads in your daily paper. Finding the words "Christmas" or "Hanukkah" is more challenging than Geraldo Rivera's search for Al Capone's vault. And like Geraldo, we come up empty. The words have been carefully expunged from the public American vocabulary. We're no longer celebrating a religious event; we're worshipping secularism and fourth-quarter profits. We're tempted by sugar plum fairies, elves or seductive fur and jewelry-bedecked bodies urging us to choose (read: buy!) the perfect "holiday gift" for a "holiday to remember" or to "make the season unforgettable."

What season? According to Webster, a season is "one of the four divisions of the year, marked by the passage of the sun through a solstice, or equinox." There are some folks who do trot out to places like Stonehenge to welcome the equinox. And you can balance an egg upright at that time, too. But that's not what we're commemorating at Christmas, nor at Hanukkah, nor Eid.

The Abrahamic faiths are about celebrating the action and presence of God in human history. We believe the outpouring of the Divine Presence is cause for jubilation, and we're happy to share that news -- within the boundaries demanded by sensitivity to those who may not share our beliefs.

But because the PC police (and city and corporate lawyers) are such nervous nellies about someone possibly being offended or someone suing, those of us who celebrate our religious traditions are considered insensitive troglodytes who need to "get with the program" by resorting to meaningless, neutralized "season's greetings" or "happy holidays."

This is not to say the annual show-downs over Nativity scenes erected on public property are trivial. In a nation that endorses separation of church and state, Americans need to be aware that we are a people of many beliefs and none. The Nativity scene can (and should) be moved from the lawn of city hall to that of the neighboring church or private business without trampling the rights of Christian Americans. The same goes for the menorah. Or, welcome everyone at this time of year, as some municipalities have done successfully, and adorn the town common with a crèche, a menorah and a crescent, celebrating religious diversity.

But that's the public sector. There's no need for church-state separation in our personal lives. Those of us who celebrate our religious holidays might muster the courage to stand up to the Scrooge of political correctness. Celebrate, and name, your religious tradition. Extend similar greetings to others on theirs.

I'll wish you Happy Hanukkah, Happy Eid, Merry Christmas.

As for me, I celebrate Christmas, not a "happy holiday."

And to Walid, thank you.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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