Merry Christmas, everyone! Oh wait, what if you are British? Happy Christmas, then! Oh sorry, you’re Jewish? Happy Hannukah! Channukah? No? Maybe you celebrate Kwanzaa? How about I just say Happy Holidays! Oh, I see, you object to political correctness. Okay, well then, how about I just say Have a nice #*$@^&% day, then? Hmmm?
When did it become so damn hard to wish someone a Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate? These days, we even get lambasted for saying Happy Holidays because we’re not ‘keeping the Christ in Christmas’ and this, apparently, marks us as godless tree-hugging liberal heathen soldiers in the so-called War Against Christmas, and earns us eternal damnation.
What if we’re just trying to be nice?
How have we become so focused on only the words while ignoring the intent?
When I was in high school, I worked the obligatory mall job. During the holiday season, I often finished a transaction with some sort of holiday greeting. I do remember trying to discover little hints to help me determine which holiday the customer might be observing, but I often defaulted into “Merry Christmas.” Nine times out of ten, it wasn’t a problem. The few people who corrected me did so in a way that suggested they weren’t offended but just wanted to be acknowledged.
Since then, it’s gotten more complicated. People have become more sensitive about the desire for their beliefs to be recognized, or they have just found the guts to be more vocal about their opposition. A more neutral approach to the confluence of holidays was needed. And so, to avoid unnecessary conflict, we started wishing each other “Happy Holidays” and our cards often say “Season’s Greetings”.
But apparently, that’s not enough anymore. It seems like the backlash against political correctness has gotten aggressive enough that now people are offended by the neutral greetings. The governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, has even been criticized for putting up the state ‘holiday’ tree instead of ‘Christmas’ tree.
Merry Christmas. It feels like the intent behind that particular greeting has subtly changed. It’s fine among friends who know each other and are aware of each other’s traditions, beliefs, or preferences. But in the past few years, if a stranger uses these words to me, it suddenly feels like a challenge for me to either take the bait and fight about it, or *wink-wink-nudge-nudge* admit that we are both persecuted Christians but aren’t afraid to show it.
I don’t appreciate that. Do not include me in any conspiracies without my permission. And certainly do not tell me or even imply what I’m ‘supposed’ to say, or what I ‘really’ mean to say.
I choose my holiday greetings based on one thing and one thing only: what I want to say. I have grown uncomfortable with overtly religious greetings because it feels hypocritical for me to use them. I haven’t been to church in years, and I have severe reservations about organized religion, even though I grew up quite Catholic (some would say because I grew up quite Catholic…but that’s a story for a theology blog…). So I avoid explicitly religious greetings because they make me uneasy, not because I am afraid of offending anyone.
And given the pagan roots of so many of our Christmas traditions, it also feels disingenuous of me to insist that this winter tradition is solely a Christian phenomenon. If we’re going to insist on following the original traditions and language, then perhaps we should all be wondering how to wish each other a good Saturnalia. In fact, a group called Freedom from Religion put up an alternate nativity scene in the capitol building in Madison, WI, and has gotten both cheers and jeers for its implication that Christmas traditions were not originally Christian constructs.
Or, if we insist on the holiday having started with the birth of Jesus and not earlier, then aren’t we still slightly off the mark with the greeting? The Greek kristos means ‘annointed one’, and is the root of our word Christmas. But shouldn’t we be referencing Aramaic instead, since it was more likely than Greek to have been Jesus’ first and primary language? Shouldn’t we be keeping the mshikha in Mshikhamas?
The point is, I have a reason for why I choose my words, and I opt for neutrality with the intention of sending good wishes to my fellow humans while not violating my own sensibilities, which do, by the way, include the desire to not offend. I’m not ‘taking the Christ out of Christmas’ out of fear of an agenda of political correctness. I’m basing my actions out of a sense of principle, good will, and just plain old civility.
I’d wager, in fact, that most people who offer holiday greetings are acting out of the same motivations, whether they know it or not. They would like to say something nice and spread a little cheer, and so they offer greetings. Some choose a greeting affiliated with a specific religion’s celebration, and some don’t. Either way, the purpose is to simply acknowledge a shared experience, whether or not the audience observes this holiday season for religious, commercial, or cultural tradition.
In other words, discounting the rote script that many a drone in the retail business follows starting on Black Friday, the intention behind the greeting is similar, and yet we’re still getting hung up on all the baggage that comes along with the words instead of remembering why we might want to say them in the first place. We start quibbling over the inconsequential semantics of peripheral political agendas and forget that it’s time to celebrate whatever it is you are going to celebrate, be it the birth of a savior, the miraculous 8-day supply of oil, the African culture and community, Chinese take-out on December 25th, or the Feats of Strength.
In that spirit, I bid thee all rejoice! For even the maddening frustrations of the season remind us that whatever you call it, this is a special time to spend with loved ones, to reflect and remind ourselves of what is important to us, and to strive to be better people in the new year.
How will you be celebrating Holiday this year?
Edited to add: I didn’t say it individually in comments so as not to become too repetitive, but I wish you all the most wonderful of holidays this season. Happies and Merries all around!
I had a good laugh from the video. You know, Seinfeld passed me by. I remember when the last show happened, with lots of fanfare, but I had never watched a complete episode. (I had other things happening in my life.) However, I loved this clip. Better late than never!
I missed the last few seasons, but I did watch the last show. It didn’t do the series justice. It’s still one of my favorite shows, so it’s good that it’s all over syndication! ;) Glad you enjoyed it!
You must have been inside my head because I was just having this exact conversation with my husband yesterday! Wishing someone Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas etc…has become this odd almost nerve-wracking thing. Do we do it or not? Will we offend or not? I certainly respect everyone’s right to celebrate whatever it is the want, even Festivus for the Rest of Us! I should start saying ‘Happy Festivus’ to everyone to cover all bases.
We celebrate Christmas but I have my own personal beliefs about Jesus and God and don’t overtly try to teach my kids anything unless they ask me directly what I believe in (much like my parents did for me)
I like the idea of starting to use ‘Happy Festivus’. The ones who get the reference will laugh, and the ones who don’t get the reference will look at me funny, which will make me laugh. It’s a win-win, really :)
I think it’s great that you’re letting your kids follow their own path. Most kids will naturally be curious and will ask eventually, and maybe even want to explore, and it’s wonderful when they have the space to be able to do that. My mother insisted on us all going to church every Sunday and going through all the rituals. I never saw my father in a church until my Confirmation, and then 5 years later at my brother’s wedding. He seemed to believe in God (at least when he justified his reasons for why we weren’t allowed to go out with friends after dark: “God made night for the sleep!”) but had no patience for the Church. I inherited his distrust of the organization rather than my mother’s obedience of it, which is probably why I am now extolling the virtues of Festivus ;)
“What if we’re just trying to be nice?” Thank you for unraveling this. I will always greet in the sincere attempt to just be nice and connect for a moment,
I constantly strive to say what I mean and mean what I say, and if I don’t sincerely wish someone Happy Holidays, then I won’t say it. I’ll smile and not be belligerent, but I won’t open my mouth. Sometimes I cave, though, and the disappointment that I feel in myself helps me do better the next time.
When I read your blog, I get the sense that you’re probably a nicer person than I am, so if I try to be sincere, then I have no doubt that you try even more :)
First, I was distracted by the picture of Han Solo. I had to steal it and share it. Absolutely hilarious!! Once I regained my composure I continued reading.
This: “How have we become so focused on only the words while ignoring the intent?” Amen. And, amen.
This triggers so many thoughts for me, Leonore. I would love to sit with you (and others within the blogosphere) and have a conversation about this very topic. I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the frustration that comes with the holidays. Why? Why must it be frustrating? Why can’t we focus family gatherings, giving to others and being grateful for all we have?
I cannot help but hear Rodney King say, “Can we all just get along?”
Happy holidays, Leonore! (Why not celebrate each and every one!)
P.S. Love the Santa cats.
Love Han. Just love him. When I first saw that picture, I knew I had to have it and use it here somehow.
I too am curious at just how fussy things have become. Have they always been this way and we didn’t notice because we didn’t have as many obligations? Or are things really getting more complicated? Mind you, I don’t even have kids, and I feel more and more duties piling up during the season than I used to. Maybe it’s the complication of extended relationships – now we get caught up in the dramas of our own family PLUS the in-laws as well!
I also think we get so inundated with images, movies, tv shows, Hallmark specials…all pounding the image of The Perfect Family Christmas, and we feel pressure to have that because we hold it up as an ideal and it’s not always like that for a lot of families. I think we might be happier if we just let ourselves off the hook about some things. For example, I’ve been inconsistent at best about Christmas cards all my life. Sometimes they’re on time, sometimes they’re late, and for the past 2-3 years, I haven’t sent them out at all. I felt terrible about it for a long time because I felt I was such a screw up that I can’t even send Christmas cards. Then I realized that for my entire life, I’ve been either a student or a teacher, and the end of a semester is a crazy, hectic time. Add the holiday fuss to that, and I’m lucky I make it out alive. So I decided to start sending cards but when people don’t expect them. I like them to arrive at the end of January, just when folks start to get depressed that there are no more festivities to be excited about. Back to Reality Blues. I call them my Winter Doldrums cards. And I’ve been much happier since I started making my own traditions rather than forcing my behaviors into the expected traditions that didn’t necessarily fit with my life.
Wow, that was a long-winded response! I guess a lot has been stewing in my brain since I first read your comment :)
Loved this post, Leonore! I feel the same way!
Have a Merry Christmas!
Thanks so much, Wendy! I’m glad I’m not the only one!
Amen!! People are starting to miss the intent of someone wishing you a Merry Christmas, which is just to spread some g.d. good cheer! I’ve got no problem with “Happy Holidays” either, but I have to say, the idea of a ‘holiday’ tree really annoys me. It’s a Christmas tree, peeps! Deal with it! LOL
Oh, and? I almost couldn’t concentrate on your wonderful post because of those AMAZING cat pictures!!! Yesss.
Don’t those little Santa kitties just kill you dead? :)
It is a little strange about the holiday tree, given the fact that the tree is not a symbol for any of the other December holidays. I mean, it’s Rhode Island, which was founded partly on the foundation of religious tolerance and a reluctance for any of them to become dominant, so the tradition has leaned more towards the all-inclusive terminology than not. But it’s still odd :)
Hello , I would like to congratulate you for this post !!! The video and the pictures are great ! Personally I don’t think much about the difference when I wish someone a Happy Whatever :) because only the gesture of respect is important in this case.
I agree that it’s the respect behind the greeting that is important. Of course, it does show respect to choose a greeting that is inclusive, but I tend to give the benefit of the doubt and take whatever greeting people choose to say in a positive manner.
love the festivus episode!
Me too. And they just showed the re-run last night. I was probably more excited than I should have been over a tv show. ;)
Leonore: Best article I’ve seen on the subject. And I saw waaaay too many articles on the subject this year. First time I experienced outright anti-Semitism in decades. What is going on?
Hope you get wasted for New Years.
Just watch the meth. ;-)
Thanks, Renee! I just saw one too many cutsey bumper stickers and I had to respond.
Really, anti-Semitism? What’s wrong with people? Besides, it’s much more fashionable to bash anything remotely PC these days.
Y’know, I just might get wasted on New Year’s. Of course, my idea of ‘wasted’ these days isn’t really what it was when I was in college ;)
Dang it! Please fix last comment so it says: Hope you get wasted for New Years! Stupid fat fingers on my iPhone.
Well, this is an extremely untimely comment, so I’ll keep it brief and simply wish you a Happy Saturnalia – those Romans really knew how to party!
And this is an extremely untimely response, but Happy Saturnalia back atcha! :)