Paul Brandeis Raushenbush posts a permanent answer to the perennial question of what to say at Christmas, that will stop a skirmish in the war against Christmas. He says we should use whatever holiday greeting is being practiced by the person to whom we are talking.
So this brings us to the Merry Christmas vs Happy Holiday debate that is not complicated and is solved with basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish, etc.
For example, during the month of Ramadan I say to my Muslim friends ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ because it shows them that I acknowledge their tradition and wish them well as they observe the holy time in their calendar. This courtesy and respect should be part of what it means to live in a pluralistic society and it is easy for all of us to offer to those to whom we are close.
However, if you don’t know the spiritual tradition of a co-worker, friend, or stranger in the elevator but wish to offer them a ‘Season’s greeting’ — a simple ‘Happy Holiday’ is not at all an insult or a denigration of Christmas, or any other tradition. It is an appropriate and inclusive salutation that recognizes that there are many ways that people are observing the season and you don’t know enough to be specific.
While this is all conciliatory and sounds pretty damned nice I have to wonder. On the one hand this is how I often practice the holiday greeting simply because the chameleon side of me takes over. On the other when I say “Happy Holidays” I am making it clear I am not calling it Christmas as there is no “Wretched days to your observance of a vicious religion” or “have a very merry unchristmas” for atheists. I am pretty sad the holiday is so long and insistent precisely because the Catholic church stole the damned season and Protestants have kept it going. You can say there are Jews, how many? You can say there are Festivus followers, how many? You can say there are pagans, solstice celebrators, how many? The fact remains that we are celebrating a usurped season and I would like to make that more clear and not sweep it under the rug like we are all equal and isn’t it nice we can all be together on these holy days which is what “holidays” means to any literate person.
What in the hell is holy about the holidays for me? That I get time off? No one is celebrating this time because they are getting the time off but employees and students–hmm, guess that’s most of us. If the main reason we celebrate December days off is because we’re not working then we have a a different problem than whether they are religious. Maybe we should reexamine our work ethic. Aside from everyone’s voiced reasons about religion and family with many castigations against greed, materialism, and meaningless sentiment.
Maybe we should just take the whole month off and turn it into one long drinking binge with a hail whoever on each holiday as it comes about. It was so many religious holidays that bogged down the Holy Roman Empire and kept the peasants idle too long such that the HRE banned most of them but for a specific few–otherwise we’d be taking a lot of Saint’s days off now. It was too many holidays and contradictory times for holidays that caused Constantine to solidify them all into single, legal dates. And they other judeo-christian sects weren’t too happy about it.
If it’s about family, let’s call it Happy Winter Family day and we’ll leave those without wife, children or kin out in the cold? We know every holiday isn’t about everyone–some of us don’t celebrate Columbus day, grouse through Thanksgiving, and have sincere doubts about the Fourth of July–but if we want this longest holiday season of the year to be for everyone then maybe we should avoid these many names that exclude one group or another.
I couldn’t even criticize my distaste for Xmas to my family, until recently, as my children bought everything, hook, line, and sinker and I have been silenced by my own partner on the entire subject as being too sadistic to bear. Now as they get older they finally realize the issue is more deep and the cognitive dissonance has varying resonance. A kind of resonance they didn’t need as it’s hard enough to grow up without this divisive crap. Geez, I have a hard enough time with the whole “bless you” versus “gesundheit” thing when I sneeze–you can see people’s brains overheat as they try to decide what to say or catch themselves before it’s too late.
We could call it “Merry Multicultural Month” trying to avoid religions entirely. Crap now we’re back to Happy Holidays for the sake of simplicity and that’s my vote, sadly, because people hate it when I say “bah, humbug.” When religionists tell me “Happy Atheist Day” and act like I am just as good as they are then maybe we can talk about my accepting their special place in the after world. When atheists can actually get voted into public offices, when atheists are no longer the most reviled minority in the country, and when secularism regains its founding seat in the public sphere, then and only then can we talk.
Shit, I feel like Arafat at the UN having to wear a pistol in sight to prove I am not safe or accepted anywhere. What’s so happy about this holiday where every relevant religion that celebrates it dooms me to separation? And no I don’t think wearing guns in public is appropriate but I understand the feeling.
And yes, I will say whatever comes to mind as I greet people. I don’t want condescending inclusion like some greeting is going to make the big difference. No, it’s not a war. It’s not a skirmish. Leave it to religious folks to brand the message in military words.
Jim Newman, bright and well