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Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Author's Note: I realize I may be preaching to the choir here given the liberal and diverse nature of E2, but we are being Googled a lot lately and more and more our messages are reaching the entire world. So hopefully I have a chance here to positively influence some opinions not only here but everywhere.

There seems to be renewed debate this Holiday Season over "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays." It seems like, if I believe the chatter I'm hearing on the radio and television this month, that a lot of Christians are getting up in arms about rampant political correctness in the form of a war waged against "Merry Christmas," in favor of being all-inclusive with "Happy Holidays." They see it as a war against Christmas itself, if I am interpreting this debate correctly. It's all part of the greater war they feel is being waged against Christianity in general, what with removing the Ten Commandments from Federal courthouses and whatnot. But I don't think saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" has to do with any of that.

It is important to understand that some Jews actually get pissed when you wish them a Merry Christmas; that node actually touches on some of the things I'm going to go over, but not all. The defense of "Happy Holidays" is usually quite simple: it's easier to say and more politically correct in case you so happen to be speaking to somebody who doesn't celebrate Christmas. But I think there are more and better defenses.

Let's face it, there are a lot of Holidays towards the end of the year. October 31 through January 1 (if you want to include Halloween) is chock full of 'em. Besides the parenthetically mentioned All Hallow's Eve, you have Thanksgiving (both Canadian and American), Chanukkah or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia, St. Nicholas Day, Ramadan, Juletide, Weihnachtszeit, Dagur nemenda, Winter Solstice, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and Christmas, just to name a few. There are many holidays around this time of year because in the beginning or the middle of winter, midwinter celebrations used to be essential in the days before modern technology where winter truly meant death, lots of people died from exposure to the cold, and you truly didn't have enough food unless you'd stocked up. Even many Native American tribes had midwinter celebrations that happened to coincide with Christmas long before they met any Europeans. Anyway, the point is, to keep themselves from going nuts or sinking into an inescapable pit of depression, it was important to throw a big party in the middle of the cold, frozen days of winter. Light a gigantic fire, get together with friends, eat, be merry, and parrr-tay like there's no tomorrow, because in those days there was truly a chance there wouldn't be a tomorrow for you. It's no coincidence that the early Christians chose the end of December to celebrate Christ's birth even though it is more likely that he was born in the spring. This made it easier to get people to celebrate Christ's Mass (later shortened to Christmas) because so many other holidays were going on at the time.

To most Americans, though, the holiday season is thought of as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's, and all the days in between. Before, when I was younger and before I'd ever heard the term "politically correct," "Happy Holidays," to me, meant "Have a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year." And, for the most part, that is what it still means to me. This is the way I look at it, and I don't see any reason everybody else can't try to see it the same way. When somebody says "Happy Holidays" to me, it means that they are wishing me well on all of the November/December holidays that I celebrate or mean anything to me. And I appreciate it. Why say Merry Christmas to somebody unless it's actually on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and unless they actually celebrate that holiday? You don't tell people "Happy Birthday" unless it's actually their birthday. They would look at you like you were a few fries short of a happy meal if you wished them a happy birthday on September 17th when their birthday is really April 10th. But, getting back to my point, if you want to wish somebody a Merry Christmas on any other day but the two most important ones, it makes more sense to say "Have a Merry Christmas" and even more sense to make sure you're saying it to somebody you're reasonably sure celebrates it. You shouldn't necessarily be afraid of offending them, but keep in mind that even if you don't piss them off, you're going to be telling them something that's totally meaningless to them, something they can't relate to. If somebody were to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, I wouldn't be upset, but I'd look at them with a blank stare and maybe say "Um...well...OK." Of course we're all human, we all err, and we slip up from time to time and I don't think anybody should jump all over your ass if you wish them a Merry Christmas when they don't celebrate it.

So I see absolutely nothing wrong saying "Happy Holidays," even to somebody who celebrates Christmas. I see it as a way to wish people well on all of the holidays they celebrate this time of year, a shorter way to say "Have a Merry Christmas/Hanukkah/Ramadan and a Happy New Year." I don't think it's overpandering to political correctness. Don't get me wrong, I'm right with anybody who argues that being p.c. is going way out of control these days, but I don't necessarily think that wishing somebody "Happy Holidays" should or could be lumped into that. But, even if you are saying it for the sake of being all-inclusive and politically correct, so what? What would actually be so bad about that? Why would you want to wish somebody a Merry Christmas who you know is or could possibly be Jewish? Or Muslim? Be nice; it's the perfect time of year for it. Actually any time is a perfect time to be nice, but that's another whole argument in and of itself.

Another thing to consider is when you're saying "Happy Holidays" in a commercial context, it just makes good business sense, if you are selling a particular product or service, to be as inclusive as you can. That adds up to more paying customers. Keep that in mind if you see "Happy Holidays" everywhere at the supermarket or shopping mall. Try to see it from that perspective. It's a simply a marketing strategy. Nobody's trying to pass laws making them do this, they do it on their own because, generally speaking, businesses try to make as much money as they can. Obviously. Making Christmas Oreos will likely only sway customers who are Christian. Making Holiday Oreos makes a lot more sense. Well, now they just call them Winter Oreos. Maybe they're trying to appeal to Atheists now. Perhaps that's taking it a bit too far. But I digress.

The debate is different, though, when you get into situations where schools are taking down Christmas decorations, be it an earnest effort to be politically correct or to avoid a lawsuit. As somebody who celebrates Christmas and fondly remembers the festive final days of school before Christmas Break, that saddens me a little. I don't think the answer is to take down all decorations, but I have no problem, again, with having "Happy Holidays" signs, for the same reasons I stated above. And wreaths and such, although commonly thought of as Christmas traditions, actually are Pagan traditions going back much further than Christ, but that's for another node. And most people don't think about that. Also, most people don't think about another's feelings enough. Some pro-Merry Christmas people are saying "What's the big deal? What does saying 'Merry Christmas' at school really hurt anyway? They need to get thicker skin!" Maybe they should read a few of those write-ups here. They don't realize it, but, yes, it can be actually a Big Deal.

Anyway, I totally agree that putting up a Nativity scene in a public school cafeteria is inappropriate, but what's wrong with some wreaths and holly, since they're Pagan in origin anyway? Maybe put up paper depictions of the Festival of Lights candle, too, as well as "Christmas" decorations? Don't take all the decorations down! Why not put more up, of every December holiday you can think of? Why can't people who are so up in arms about what they feel is this attack on "Merry Christmas" try to come up with solutions like this rather than just complaining and grieving? I guess the reason is that we are a society of complainers, of people who'd much rather whine than actually try to think of solutions.

But, again, that's for another node.

I'm sure that somebody out there, maybe somebody on E2, might be thinking "But, you're missing the point, what about...?!" I've tried to cover every aspect of the debate, but I probably haven't. Still, try to at least understand what I have said. "Happy Holidays" is not a bad thing. "Inclusive" isn't a bad word. Why can't "Happy Holidays" mean wishing you well on all of the holidays you celebrate this time of year? And try to consider what it'd be like to be Jewish or Muslim and feel left out, being bombarded with images of Christmas everywhere, even though a lot of them have nothing to do with Christ. Keep in mind that you're being quite paranoid if you think that people are trying to stop you from saying "Merry Christmas," like there's a Holiday Gestapo out there ready to suit up and beat everybody down who likes to say it. You have the right to say it, and don't worry you always will, it's just that it's not always appropriate. Don't get mad at a bakery that's selling "holiday" versions of their sweet products instead of "Christmas" ones, they're just out to make money. And don't get upset at a TV station that airs "Happy Holidays" bumpers during commercials. If you've noticed they actually do still have "Merry Christmas" ones, but they only air them on December 25th. That day is truly Christmas and nobody, not Jews, Muslims, Atheists, corporations, or the Government, can ever ever take that away from you.

Happy Holidays, folks!

themanwho says: "oh... you can remove ramadan. It won't be in the november-december bracket for another 9 years or so."

RPGeek says: A small nitpick; Canadian thanksgiving is in early October, not 'between October 31 and December'...

I prefer Happy Holidays. Why? It is something I can honestly wish everyone I know.

I went to a public high school. There was no Christmas break. There was no day off for Yom Kippur. There were 'vacation days'. There was no singing Silent Night in choir class for the holiday concert. The German teacher got in trouble for teaching us 'Stille Nacht'. In other words, we got the secular versions of holidays. Which, for the most part, was what everyone could agree on.

I am Jewish. My husband is Catholic. I have cousins that are Buddists. I have friends that are Muslim.

I may not understand their holidays to the extent that they do, but if it is a joyous event, I can feel comfortable wishing them a happy holiday.

I have been wished Merry Christmas millions of times in my life. I usually respond in the same way: I don't celebrate Chrismas, but I will parlay your wish into a Happy Hannukah.

Most people will say something along the lines of: Oh, sorry. Happy Hannukah.

Occasionally, I just get a blank stare of confusion.

Once I got a "Funny, you don't look Jewish".

It is the last that bothers me the most. Part of the whole new issue of having to specifically wish people a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays is relgious profiling. I don't look Jewish, so I must celebrate Christmas.

Today, I got an email from the alumni director of my high school. He was wishing them a 'Blessed Merry Christmas'. I sent him back an email saying that maybe a Happy Holiday message could be sent instead, so that we could focus on our similarites (Holidays) instead of our differences (Christmas). Not once mentioning that I was Jewish, or impling that I was offended, just sort of an FYI thing. He sent me back a message saying that everyone should be wished a Merry Christmas in order to celebrate the birth our our lord Jesus Christ. Five emails later, the closest I can get to this guy understanding me is his reply wishing me a happy Hannukah and a Very Merry Christmas.

Bottom line: if you don't know someone well enough to know what they celebrate, either don't wish them anything or just wish them a Happy Holiday. The ubiquitious nature of having every clerk who hands you change in a store wishing you a happy holiday cheapens the wish. Save the statement for when you mean it.

More Politically Correct rules are no substituation for Tolerance of the ways of others.

As a Christian by culture but not by belief, the few occasions I have been wished a 'Happy Hanukah' I have felt warmed by the fact that someone wants to extend the good feeling of their own culture and beliefs out to me, I love it.

In saying 'Merry Christmas' people are in effect saying 'It's Christmas, I'm a bit nicer and happier than normal and I extend that courtesy to you, hope you feel the same way.'.

It must take the most intolerant and mean-spirited of people to take offence to that. To interpret it as 'Hey Jew/Buddist/Muslim/Whatever, why don't you believe in Christ for a change!' seems to indicate a persecution complex on the part of the listener.

Political Correctness is not a good replacement for Tolerance but as society runs increacingly low on the latter we are seeing massive amounts of PC rules being created to try and compensate for it. The 'Happy Holidays' rule being just one more.

PC rules limit what we can do and terrifyingly what we can even think. Tolerance allows us to keep our cultural diversity and lets us grow and learn from each other.

Merry Christmas OR Happy Holidays?

I was raised a Catholic—attended Catholic school through high school. I lived in a white, suburban Christian community. I sang in the church choir. My favorite Christmas song was “O Holy Night”. In other words, I was brought up to believe in God, to celebrate Christmas, to worship the baby Jesus and to long to visit Bethlehem and see the special shining star that guided the Magi to the inn those many years ago.

And, I grew up and expanded my world view—having friends from different races, learning about other kinds of belief systems and understanding the various ways and forms that God appears to others. I have arrived at some insights that have caused me to view the “Christmas v. Holiday” controversy in a very different light than I would have in the 1950s and early 1960s.

I was taught that God is ubiquitous—that God is everywhere and in everyone. I believe that now in a profoundly different way than I did when I was young and believed everything that I was taught by my early teachers. I know that my God has many names and forms. God is Buddha, Mohammed, Yahweh, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Mother, Father, Husband, Friend, Stranger, ET (the extraterrestrial) and Enemy. God is anyone or anything that helps me grow and learn about myself, my world, my responsibilities and my reason for being.

And, as a result of my broader education and opportunity to think for myself, I am no longer Catholic. One reason is that I view the church’s teachings in many areas as just wrong. One of the teachings is that the church is the “one, true universal church” and that only people who are Catholic in good standing (e,g, confession, weekly Mass, no mortal sins) can enter the gates of heaven. In good conscience, I can no longer accept that notion. The path to “heaven” has many roads, many teachers and many ways to hear the right messages.

One of my values—supported by my early teachings from families and teachers and constantly reinforced by everyone I respect—is that I should “do unto others as I would have done to me”. That was part of my catechism, it’s in the Bible, it just makes sense. So, I may not like you; I may not want to be the person you are; I may disagree with your beliefs or choices; but I must treat you with courtesy and respect and agree to disagree or to not engage with you any more than I have to—but I cannot force you to view the world from my point of view or to believe what I believe. Each of us must find our own path, our own teacher, our own way to hear the messages that will take us to the promised land.

So, where am I in the controversy over “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays”? There is only one choice. I choose to celebrate Christmas. I still have a small nativity set (a very special Mary, Jesus and donkey made by students in an inner city special education class where I did some student teaching). I still think “O Holy Night” is one of the best Christmas songs there is (and I try every year to hit the notes as purely as the best singers do). But, I believe firmly in separation of Church and state. And, I respect your path to God, despite what name you give her. I would not presume that you would impose your beliefs or choice of celebrations on me. Nor would I expect that you would do the same to me. Therefore, I wish you a very “Happy Holiday”!

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