YOU MIGHT be surprised with this kind of greeting for the New Year and probably never heard of it. Indeed I have never encountered anyone saying it. On the other hand, we say, “Merry Christmas” or those who prefer to exclude Christ in the celebration but enjoy the gaiety and merriment of the holidays say “Happy Holidays”.
Fr. Sean Coyle, wrote to say that in Ireland, they say “Happy Christmas” while we follow the American tradition, “Merry Christmas”. I was intrigued by this information that I began to ponder on the difference. Indeed, being happy is different from being merry even if they can be synonymous.
The greeting “Merry Christmas” was taught to us by the American Protestant missionaries. Until the Americans introduced English, we say “Feliz Navidad” taught by the Spanish Catholic missionaries. Since we were ignorant of English as with Greek or Urdu, we accepted the wrong translation – merry instead of happy.
Happy means having or showing a feeling of great pleasure, of contentment, joy or gladness or anything that is appropriate or suitable for a situation. We speak of happiness in heaven but not merriment because happiness indicates religiosity and spirituality of inner of joy and expressed in an outward behavior of gladness.
The etymology of the word “merry” on the other hand, means, “short”, a sense of something that lasts a short time, a situation full of laughter, of fun, liveliness, and cheerfulness. It is a state of festive, amusing or being hilarious as that of a clown. It is in a sense “just a whirl of social life of business affairs.” It lacks depth because it is, from the origin of the word, brief.
It is thus more appropriate to consider happiness for Christmas and merriment for the New Year. In fact, the way we celebrate the two occasions indicate the difference – Christmas has a religious and spiritual foundation, a joy for the beginning of the redemption of man. New Year is basically merry-making with dancing, hugging, kissing, drinking, singing and pyrotechnics (for Asians) and pure frivolousness for most.
Although the season of Christmas and the New Year are times when we hope for peace, our hope oftentimes is marred by incidents that give us the sense that our hope remains merely that – a fantasy. The ceasefire between the Army and the NPA was broken, our colleague, Rolly Espina passed on these joyous days, and killings, suicide bombings, and fatal accidents dampen our days.
The pyrotechnics that the Chinese believe drive the evil spirits and misfortunes away never work but people keep on buying them because of the merriment and the hope things might work out well. Those who are afraid of losing a finger or arm resort to blowing of horns and those who do not want to spend money resort to just beating anything to make noise.
But despite everything we are a people of hope. An old song, “Whispering Hope” that I have not heard this year, sums up our feeling: hope “make my heart in its sorrow rejoice.”
What will 2018 be like? Truly we don’t and can never know because we are not omniscient. We can only speculate. Next week fortune tellers will come out in print, radio, television and social media. They make guesses from an array of possibilities. People are curious about tomorrow. That is human nature but only God knows and we can only put our trust in Him. Only He knows, “que sera, sera”.
The song I quoted above continues, “If in the dark of the twilight / Dim be the region afar / Will not the deepening darkness brighten the glimmering star? / Then when the night is upon us, / Why should the heart sink away? / When the dark midnight is over, / Watch for the breaking of day.” Truly morning comes only after the night and night comes only after the light of day.
The BBC showed the first Christmas of Albania in 1991 since 1945 when the communists ban it in 1945. This month Mosul had its first Christmas. We are fortunate we never had Christmas-less Decembers but have merry New Years.
So be merry this New Year!
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