That essay speaks for itself. But here are some additional reflections:
Donald Trump, among his innumerable other tirades and sputterings, has made a point of trying to reignite the "Christmas Wars" and in particular attack the use of phrases such as "Happy Holidays." It is very tempting to rush to the defense of "the holidays" (as a phrase), if only because Trump's tirades were so obviously coded and pandering. But, in fact, greetings such as "Happy Holidays" and phrases such as the "the holiday season" are complicated and fraught in their own ways, and are actually a symptom of, rather than a solution to, the culture's Christmas puzzle. This, I should emphasize, has nothing to do, for me at least, with any sense of psychological "offense" or personal affront; I'm on record as arguing that we focus too much on offense and affront in our thinking about religion, state, and culture. See here. But our words, in their various complex dimensions, do reflect and shape our conception of the culture and the nation, and their relation to our own beliefs and traditions. So analyzing these usages is important in its own right quite apart from whether anyone is or should be offended or affronted.
So here's the dilemma: "Happy Holidays" and "the holiday season" and the like can have a range of meanings. At one end of the continuum, they can reflect a genuine and generous acknowledgment of religious and cultural pluralism and an effort to cast as wide a celebratory net as possible. At the other other end, though, they can simply be cheap euphemisms for "Merry Christmas" or "the Christmas season," albeit a secularized or evacuated version of Christmas. Correspondingly, objections to "Happy Holidays" and the like can either express a rejection of religious pluralism or just an objection to the secularization of Christmas. The former is simple and often ugly bigotry. But the latter is understandable. In fact, liberals who complain about "cultural appropriation" in other context should also, by all rights, have some sympathy for folks who see Christmas being both transformed and stolen out from under them in favor of a flattened, content-less, and commercialized shadow of itself.
(I do not mean to suggest that the "secular" Christmas is illegitimate. But it is only view of the cathedral, so to speak. And, as a I argue in my "Christmas" essay, even those elements of Christmas that might appear at first glance to be purely "secular" also do double duty as cultural accessories to the religious celebration.
In addition, a part of the picture that I did not fully appreciate when I wrote the essay is that there are actually two distinct versions even of the "secular" Christmas:(1) the very old, quasi-pagan, festival of raucous excess, which has long been at war with the religious celebration of the birth of Jesus, and (2) the celebration of love, home, hearth, and childlike wonder so successfully invented and promoted by Dickens, Nast, and Moore in the 19th century, whose relationship to both of the older dimension of the holiday is both rich and ambiguous, particularly in the central role it gives to children.)
Further complicating the picture is that, between their straightforward polar meanings, terms such as "the Holidays" can also refer, least happily perhaps, to a putatively pluralistic cluster of holidays that still clearly revolves around Christmas at its core. I am thinking of the menorah plopped down next to the Christmas tree or the notion of a "holiday season" that clearly leads up to December 25 regardless of when other holidays might actually fall. This is a sort of faux pluralism that gestures toward interreligious and intercultural recognition, but doesn't actually seek to understand or acknowledge anything beyond its own orbit. (That notion of a "holiday season," by the way, is also problematic for a different reason. For serious Christians, the period before Christmas is Advent, a time of preparation and contemplation, not premature celebration. And for serious Jews, Hanukkah -- unlike some other Jewish holidays -- does not have a "season" at all; it begins on a given day and ends after the eighth day, and that's it.)
One problem, of course, is that it is often hard to tell, in any particular context, either the meaning of the words or the nature of the objection to them. For that matter, it is fair to say that as often as not, even the people uttering the words and the people objecting to them don't fully understand themselves what they have in mind.
So what's the solution? I have no idea. As I say in my essay about Christmas, this dilemma is also probably intractable. There might be no satisfactory answer. I certainly am not recommending a surrender to Trump and his supporters, heaven forbid. But I am suggesting that the rest of us should not just naively congratulate ourselves for appearing tolerant and open-minded in disagreeing with him. And I am arguing that all of us should be more conscious of both the ambiguities of pluralism in a dominant culture and the complex interplay of categories such as "secular" and "religious."
Also, to reiterate, we need to think about these questions without just focusing on the psychologism of "offense" or validation. For myself, for what it's worth, I usually take any and all greetings around this time of year in their stride. And when I do feel put out, I quickly realize that, at some level, nothing satisfies me: Say "Merry Christmas" and I'd like to respond (though I almost never do), "I don't celebrate Christmas." Say "Happy Holidays," and I'm tempted to ask, "And which holiday, exactly, did you have in mind?" Or say nothing at all and leave me feeling out of the loop.
A final note:
For some relatively recent polling on the "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Holidays" conundrum, see, for example, here and here. The result that fascinates me most, though, is the geographical divide revealed here: Northeasterners,not surprisingly, tend to prefer "Happy Holidays." Midwesterners, also not surprisingly, prefer "Merry Christmas." But more Southerners prefer "Happy Holidays" just because that happens to have historically been an African-American usage. And Westerners prefer "Merry Christmas" because, remarkably enough, many parts of the West have become so nonreligious that the secular dimension of Christmas is just taken for granted. Stay tuned.