This is my first holiday season since coming out as a not-christian and non-religious person. It probably would have no impact on my impressions of the season if not for the fact that I have new friends and acquaintances online who are very openly atheist (and even anti-theist, as one woman likes to put it). So I find myself puzzling over the question of whether or not the use of the word "christmas" is a big deal.
On the one hand, let's admit it; this country may not be an explicitly christian country in legal wording, but in population and history it often may as well be. This is, in my opinion, rather unfortunate, but unavoidable nonetheless. I personally do not think it should continue to be one, but that isn't the debate I want to focus on right now. The real problem in the question of the use of the word christmas is that in a country that claims to offer its citizens freedom of religion there seems to be a very special preference for the judeo-christian brand of religion. Because obviously the history of christianity in this country is the reason that christmas is a federally recognized holiday.
On the other hand, though, there is no mandated religious expression associated with the celebration of the holiday. For the most part government buildings and institutions are still prohibited from showing a christian preference through nativity scenes or other depictions of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and company. In American christmas mostly means trees and lights, presents and food, family and time off of work (none of which are strictly religious observances; indeed, many of them have roots in paganism). So is it a problem to celebrate christmas? Is that somehow caving to some social pressure, to agree to call our American holiday by a name rooted in religion (Christ-mass; take that protestants!).
Perhaps I'm just too much of a chicken to touch this fight, or perhaps it's because christmas has always been a secularized holiday to me, but I really see no reason to mess with it. I mean, if people really want to be P.C. about the names of everything, we might want to rename the vagina too. After all, the word basically means sheath, which is kind of a degrading name for a woman's genitalia (especially non-hetero females). One could come up with a nearly-endless list of names that ought to be changed because of their history at some point or another. So, perhaps a better solution would be to continue to change the meaning of the words through our practice than to try to force everyone to use different words. At the least, it seems like a good choice in the interim between now and whenever it would be possible to institute a wide-range use of whatever new word one had in mind.
So on that note, merry christmas, happy hanukkah, have a good kwanza, a great new year, happy solstice, merry whatever-holiday-you-celebrate, and just a great happy holiday season.