Bud Kennedy

A Hanukkah dance and a Nativity scene: It’s Texas, y’all

A Nativity scene unveiled Monday at the state Capitol will sit in the basement under the rotunda.
A Nativity scene unveiled Monday at the state Capitol will sit in the basement under the rotunda. American-Statesman

At the risk of angering the War on Christmas brigade, I must point out “merry Christmas” does not end with the words “or else.”

A gentle greeting is now a dare. Replying “happy holidays” is met with a cold glare, or buckshot.

Nine years into a counteroffensive to restore “merry Christmas” as the supreme greeting, Texas has passed a law reinforcing our constitutional freedom to wish anyone whatever we like.

But sometimes that merriness turns into meanness.

After all, the primary message of Christ’s birth is not to say, “It’s the law now! You listen to me!

Someone who resents a “happy” greeting “sounds like a person with their own issues,” said Linda Metcalf, professor of graduate counseling at Texas Wesleyan University, affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

As far as what to say, her advice is: “Be yourself and spread good wishes however you like. I think most people with a healthy mindset are going to accept a greeting of goodwill.”

If you wish everybody “merry Christmas,” she said that’s fine: “We’re all trying to share good wishes and at the same time be an open, diverse society. People know you’re just trying to wish them a good holiday.”

In this 10th year since Fox News talk hosts set up a broadcast beachhead to defend Christmas greetings, they are losing ground.

In a 2013 survey of 1,056 Americans, “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” is now the favored message for stores and businesses, by 49 percent to 43. That was a 5 percent swing from 2010.

But at home, 90 percent of Americans still celebrate Christmas.

“People are just more aware now that not everyone is celebrating,” said Robert P. Jones of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the surveys.

“It’s still Christmas in most homes, but more families are blending it or recognizing another holiday celebration.”

Even our own Gov. Rick Perry danced with rabbis Tuesday to celebrate Hanukkah, as he does every year, and issued a statement comparing the Maccabees’ triumph to the Boston Tea Party: “No matter how vast the darkness, all it takes is one candle to spread the light.”

Behind him, inside the Capitol, a Nativity scene drew visitors to a basement space regularly allotted for public exhibits.

“People are going and enjoying having it in the Capitol,” said lawyer Trey Trainor of the Texas Nativity Scene Project, which applied to the State Preservation Board for the exhibit with sponsorship of state Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock.

The Nativity is a simple, understated creche and manger scene bought from a Roman Catholic gift shop, Trainor said. It was first unveiled on the Capitol’s south steps, then moved to the basement space.

“It’s in a space anyone can use as long as they follow the process,” he said.

“It’s a place for public speech on issues that are important to the public, and this is important.”

On a sign alongside, the message is fittingly specific: “Merry Christmas.”

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @BudKennedy