Word Play: Holiday’s Christian roots

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, December 23rd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. There’s something ironic about the current holiday greeting many of us hear this time of year. 

To explain why it’s not as bad as maybe you think is WORLD’s George Grant with this month’s Word Play.

GEORGE GRANT: Happy Holidays! Now, don’t worry. I’m not using that phrase because it is the politically correct and culturally acceptable thing to do these days. I know only too well that the quashing of carols, crèches, and Christ from a season that only has a whit of significance precisely because of carols, crèches, and Christ is more than a little ironic for all of the obvious reasons. But I also think that it is more than a little ironic for all of the not so obvious reasons. 

The current uber-chic season’s greeting, “Happy Holidays,” as a replacement for the outré-gauche “Merry Christmas” is actually fraught with an unforeseen difficulty.

The difficulty is simply that the word holiday is just an alternate spelling for Holy-Day. According to Samuel Johnson’s authoritative English Dictionary, the definitions of holiday or Holy-Day include: “1. The day of some ecclesiastical festival within Christendom; 2. An anniversary feast day on the Christian liturgical calendar; 3. A day of gaiety and joy in light of Gospel truth; and, 4. A rare occurrence of God’s grace.”

Replete with example quotations and epigrams from William Shakespeare, John Milton, Henry Ainsworth, John Dryden, and Alexander Pope, Johnson’s definitions highlight the peculiar paradox of modern disputes about language, culture, history, and worldview: We are so disconnected from the foundations of our language, culture, history, and worldview that it is all too common for both sides of our arguments to actually miss the point of the arguments.

So, the next time Christmas-naysayers attempt to play the role of the Grinch sweeping into Whoville to steal away every vestige of Christian civilization, we can simply smile—with all the guilelessness of Cindy-Lou Who.

Meanwhile we all probably ought to do our homework a little more thoroughly. This whole Christ-less Christmas flap rather smacks of one of Johnson’s illustrative epigrams from the great English poet, literary critic, and translator, John Dryden, “Courage, like intelligence, is but a holiday kind of virtue, only seldomly exercised.”

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas! For World Radio, I’m George Grant.

(Photo/Creative Commons, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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