Christmas greetings just semantics in Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 30, 2005

Natchez &8212; The rest of the country might be debating the issue, but in the Miss-Lou, there is little question about what seasonal greeting people prefer.

&8220;We&8217;ve just all been saying Merry Christmas,&8221; said Mary Flach, manager of McRae&8217;s/Belk in Natchez.

It&8217;s the same story at local grocery stores owned by Supermarket Operations, said Barry Loy, director of retail operations.

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&8220;Most of our population prefers Merry Christmas,&8221; he said. &8220;It&8217;s just not an issue.&8221;

The controversy over whether to refer to the season and its accouterments as Christmas or the holidays seems to be a relatively new phenomenon, said Bart Walker, pastor of Parkway Baptist Church.

&8220;I grew up in a culture where (&8216;Merry Christmas&8217;) was the norm,&8221; Walker said. &8220;It&8217;s a common thing to say.

&8220;Outside of Natchez, it changes. Some people have an offense to Christianity.&8221;

But Walker said people who use the term &8220;Happy Holidays&8221; aren&8217;t necessarily anti-Christian.

&8220;I don&8217;t know that we can see into the mind or heart of anyone,&8221; he said. &8220;I don&8217;t think they mean anything against Christmas. The word &8216;holiday&8217; means &8216;holy day.&8217; And (Christmas) would be considered a holy day.&8221;

Father David O&8217;Connor, pastor of St. Mary Basilica, not surprisingly said he prefers &8220;Merry Christmas&8221; as a greeting.

&8220;I have a strong feeling about keeping it Christ-centered,&8221; he said.

Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, should prepare Christians not only to celebrate the first coming &8212; the birth of Jesus &8212; but also the second coming, O&8217;Connor said.

Walker said he has not experienced the anti-Christian &8212; or anti-Christmas &8212; sentiment in Natchez, but he reads and hears stories about it.

&8220;There are places where Christianity is under attack,&8221; he said. &8220;But most of what I have experienced is from a distance.&8221;

For the most part, Walker said he doesn&8217;t think the Christmas-holiday debate is the most important aspect of the season.

&8220;It&8217;s a tempest in a teapot in some areas,&8221; he said. &8220;Sometimes I think we burn a lot of energy over something that isn&8217;t a real big issue.&8221;

Walker said he wishes people would instead focus on the meaning of the season &8212; and get away from the commercialization of Christmas.

&8220;I tell my congregation Christmas is the one birthday party in which we do not take gifts to the person who has the birthday &8212; we give gifts to each other instead. But the best gift we can give to Christ is that we give our very lives.&8221;