Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Debating Christmas

This is the time of the year when tempers in America seem to rise at the same rate as outside temperatures on the East coast fall. And the reason for these rising tempers is the old Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays debate.

I should preface my opinion on the issue by saying first that Christmas is a cultural not religious holiday to me, that I dislike the swirling, cacophonous commercialism associated with it, and I spend it in the US, not Ireland; I enjoy eating good food, drinking good wine, and chewing the fat with friends. Secondly, I was oblivious about the debate when I lived in Ireland and England. Over there, we say 'Merry Christmas', period. It wasn't until my first Christmas in America when I was invited to Christmas Day dinner at the home of some of Larry's friends that I learned about the whole 'Happy Holidays' thing. As I entered the house, I said "Merry Christmas" to everyone I encountered and one woman said, "It's more proper to say "Happy Holidays." Needless to say, I bristled, wished her "Merry Christmas" again, and passed into the room with its enormous Christmas tree and wreath on the wall. (In an adjoining room, I might add was a navitity set because the host had converted to being an Episcopilian from Catholicism.) As one does in such situations, I inquired later about this woman and was informed she was Jewish, had graduated in law from a Catholic university, had a powerful position at a law firm in Philadelphia, but was also a closeted lesbian who would not acknowledge her longterm girlfriend because she lived in terror of being 'outed' at work. The last nugget of informatiion gave me the measure of the woman who had confronted me. For the entire day, she behaved as if she and I were the North and North poles of two magnets. When I joined a group of people where she was present, she immediately jettisoned herself to another room; if she remained because she'd just joined the group herself, she would not look at me, not even when I was talking or when I addressed her directly (made a point of doing that, actually. And she did respond, but it was apparant by its brevity that she'd have preferred to munch on the rim of her crystal wine goblet.

This year, the debate seems to have stirred the national consciousness because many people are making a point of saying "Merry Christmas" to those whom it seems logical would celebrate Christmas. People appear to be genuinely angry about this piece of political correctness that's gone awry. I've seen the attitudes and emphatic greetings at the malls. Maybe its because my name is Celtic, they know they can say "Merry Christmas." I also watched with horrified amazement as Macy's struggled about what to call their Christmas tree during the televised lighting ceremony at their principal store in the state of Georgia. After much wrangling, they decided to call it the Great tree I mean, give me a break. It's a Christmas tree. It's not a 'Holiday tree,' and it's not a'Great tree.'

Whatever happened to common sense. If a person is African-American and they celebrate Kwaanza instead of Christmas, then one simply says 'Happy Kwanzaa' if it falls in the same time period as Christmas and you know they celebrate it. If they don't celebrate Christmas and it's Christmas Day, then just wish them "Merry Christmas." Good manners dictate that they either wish it back or, if they desire to make a point, they can say 'Thanks, but I don't celebrate Christmas.' This applies also to Hanukkah. If the person is Jewish and you know it, say "Happy Hanukkah" if it falls contemporaneously with Christmas (as it does this year), or you can resort to the generic "Happy Holidays". If you don't know they're Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or whatever religion and it is 'Christmas Day, then say "Merry Christmas" and let good manners prevail. Simple as that. I have many Jewish friends and they do not twist into gargoyles of political correctness because I wish them "Merry Christmas" on December 25th.

My point is, there is no need to subvert wishing someone Merry Christmas because of a fear or reticence about traversing political correctness. It is Christmas and the fact that it is so should be acknowledged by intelligent people of any creed or culture. Not to do so demeans, stupifies and holds us hostage to one hell of an asinine aspect of the gospel of political correctness. Let's just all acknowledge our different cultures and associated holidays and maybe, just maybe, learning someone we meet comes from another culture might prompt us to ask about their holiday and learn something about it. We certainly won't learn anything by saying 'Season's Greetings' or 'Happy Holidays' and pretending the different traditions don't exist.

[technorati: , , ,


Georganna Hancock said...

For more than 60 years I've known people of every walk and persuasion of life. Why is it only the Christians who try to cram their religion down our throats by forcing a "Merry Christmas" on everyone in sight (or out of sight, in the case of holiday cards)? Most everyone who knows me knows I'm not Christian. I know many people who celebrate Kwanza, Hanukah, Ramadan--and they don't wish me a happy whatever they are celebrating. Still, my best friend, my mother, my cousin ply me with "Merry Christmas" greetings, gifts, cards over my continued gentle protests.

Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks for the interesting comment, Georganna. I don't care so much for Christmas myself. But when I say 'Merry Christmas,' I'm not saying it in any religious sense, and I'm sure a great many other people aren't either. Merry Christmas is just meant to be, well, Merry Christmas. I can imagine its connotation might be different in the Bible Belt, but then I don't know people living in the rural areas of the Bible belt and really ahve no desire to find out.

Debra Hamel said...

Georganna makes a good point, though. I understand that there's no offense to be taken in people wishing one Merry Christmas. It's like taking offense at the use of "honey" or "dear" as a vocative: if there's no offense intended, it would be churlish to take offense.

That said, it is impressive that people seem to assume that everyone they come across celebrates Christmas. For example, well-wishers in the store will often ask my children what Santa's bringing to them, that sort of thing. It's nice of them, and the kids sort of know to play along/not contradict these adults, but in fact we don't celebrate Christmas (or Hannukah, or anything else).

I just wish Christmas would go back to being a simpler religious holiday rather than the overstuffed, over-commercialized affair its become. Good will toward men and all that--that's something one can respect. As it is I spend most of the season avoiding stores for the throngs of Christian shoppers and cursing them if I'm stuck in Christmas-season traffic.

Spencer said...

Stopping in before I leave for my weekend to wish you a Merry Christmas!