Merry Christmas or Whatever

Noah Brand’s Christmas wishes to all.

We say “Happy Holidays” to be polite and inclusive, which are good qualities, but sometimes I think the plural is unnecessary. There’s really just one holiday this time of year, with a lot of names. They shuffle it in close to the solstice for a reason, and however you celebrate it, the meaning is the same.

The winter solstice is, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the shortest, darkest, and often coldest day of the year. Our celebration of it comes down to us from old times, from subsistence times, when the winter was the season of little food except what you’d been able to preserve from the harvest, the time of cold that could kill you, the time when you huddled in whatever warm space you could build with whoever was still alive and ate whatever you had left. Winter was death.

So in the worst part of winter, the darkest, coldest, scariest time, we throw a party. We eat and we drink and we tell old stories. We give gifts and forgive wrongs and love each other as hard as we can. We pull out candles and evergreens to remind us that light and life survive the winter. We come together because together is how we survive, and we forget that at our peril. That’s the holiday, that’s the celebration because that’s what we do as humans.

And then we give it different names and argue over whose is best, because that’s the other thing we do as humans.

Today it’s Christmas, the name and date picked by one religious hegemony over another, the religious holiday in the secular nation, the version I grew up celebrating. So when I wish you and yours a merry Christmas, understand that I mean that hope will prevail, that light will return to the world, and that we’ll all be okay if we can love each other enough.


About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. Voilà. Happy Boxing Day!

  2. Merry Christmas to you too.

  3. Thank you so much for honoring and putting into words how I feel. May the light being forth a good year for you.

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