Sunday, December 25, 2016

Why I Will Always Say "Merry Christmas"

Merry Christmas, everyone! Happy Hanukkah! Joyous Kwanzaa! Happy Winter Solstice! Happy Festivus! Happy New Year!

I think that's everything. Phew! *wipes brow*

A week before Christmas, I take it upon myself to bring Christmas cheer to work. So this was exactly what I did this past week. As a man and his son left, I wished them a "Merry Christmas," figuring that it would be nice to wish a little boy such a thing. When they walked out the door and didn't really respond, my co-worker said to me, "Don't say 'Merry Christmas.' Just say 'Happy Holidays.' Not everyone celebrates Christmas. What if they are Jewish?"

Mind you, we had this exchange as I was wearing a SANTA HAT. Obviously a person wearing a Santa hat is going to want to say "Merry Christmas" and represent that specific holiday. Now, although I'd disagree, I guess it would be a different story if it were against restaurant policy to say it, but none of the managers, shift leaders, or even owners there seemed to take issue with my word choice or head gear, so I am extremely thankful for that and appreciate them granting me that liberty.

It was only a matter of time though before this happened. I'm only surprised it didn't happen sooner.

I tried defending myself a bit but didn't let it turn into an argument or lead to fevered animosity. The minor debate rested there, but I ended up thinking about this for the rest of the day and planned this blog post in my head.

I am not one for political correctness involving the holidays. Look, I have no problem with saying "Happy Holidays" to people. I agree that it is a nice collective term to include everyone. What most conservative Christians like myself have beef with regarding this rule is being told NOT to use the words they so eagerly want to say to people. There is no need for these words to exist then if that is the case.

This is America and one of the principles we hold dear is the right to free speech. I can see now if I was saying something derogatory about someone else's religion, but I am using my traditions to spread good cheer to others. Normally what I do is change it up or say both "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." Sure it's a mouthful, but at least I get to say my thing and still cover all angles with the other.

I often try to look at the other person's point of view. For example, I have noticed contrasting reactions to my greetings and general holiday jolliness, so I use that to determine what I say. Some people are quiet, some are joyous. Sometimes I would get a "Merry Christmas" in return, sometimes I would get a "Happy Holidays" in return, and other times I would get nothing. If anything, they awkwardly smile and go on their way. I am yet to run into that person who tells me that he or she doesn't celebrate Christmas.

I'm the type of person who strikes up a conversation with the customers and I believe that they see me as such as well. If they were to tell me that they celebrate something else or I knew it already, I would gladly address them with such a greeting. I would find it fascinating that I am meeting someone who celebrates Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. In fact, I am very pleased with the amount of Chanukah merchandise I have seen in stores this year. Certain sections are specially reserved for blue menorahs. My South Mountain Says Magazine publishers are Jewish, so I was excited to buy my first Chanukah card just for them. It felt like I was entering foreign territory because A) I rarely purchase Hanukkah cards and 2) The cards actually included some terminology that I am unfamiliar with.

Then I thought about it the other way around. Say if I was a customer somewhere and the festive blonde chick behind the counter all of a sudden wished me "Happy Winter Solstice!" Honestly, I would find it odd, which is how I imagine others who don't celebrate Christmas feel whenever I say "Merry Christmas." But I wouldn't feel offended or upset. I'd say it right back to her or even wish her a "Merry Christmas" as well. I think it would be an awesome idea if someone extended to me a greeting for a holiday that I don't celebrate. That to me shows that even though we are different, they accept me into their community.

But then I took this a step further and tried to imagine what it would be like to be non-Christian and constantly in the midst of hearing and seeing "Merry Christmas" and Christmas materials everywhere every single year, or vice versa, being Christian and surrounded by Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. People would probably feel out of place. See, I am fortunate enough to benefit from "Christian privilege," which means that my Christianity and Christian traditions are more widely represented and accepted than others, so I try to take this into consideration. The United States happens to be a majority Christian country, Christian being its most common religion. Many believe and have learned that it was founded on Christian ideals because the settlers traveled here for religious freedom. I can imagine that if I were to visit Israel, a more Jewish heavily populated country, around this time of year, I would run into more Hanukkah influences. But because the U.S. is more of a melting pot of cultures, there is more concern to include everyone here. Plus, everyone is so easily offended nowadays.

Also, if "Merry Christmas" was really that offensive towards others, any Christmas jingle that utters those words would be banned from the radio. They wouldn't have individual holiday greetings on TV either. Would people not be allowed to wear Christmas sweaters anymore, especially ones that said "Merry Christmas" on them? If you ban people from saying these words, what's to stop from other banning?

None of this better happen!

You only hear these words like one or two months out of a twelve month year! Let people say Merry Christmas! Let people say Happy Hanukkah! Let people say Happy Holidays! Literally none of these words cause any harm! It's no different from saying Happy Easter, Happy Passover, or Happy Resurrection Sunday in the spring months.

I don't say "Merry Christmas" to bring people discomfort or to shove my privilege into others' faces, although I am trying to see things from the opposing perspectives. I say it because I want to and because I have the freedom and right to and I want to exercise that. It is MY tradition. It is MY celebration and I want to express it the way I want to. But I don't just do it for myself. I do it for the Christmas celebrating customers that come in and respond enthusiastically with a sigh of relief when they see someone who actually says it and is not afraid to. I do it for the people who serve me when I patronize somewhere and others to give them the permission to say it back to me because perhaps in their workplace they aren't even allowed to or they just want to be careful because you don't know what an individual celebrates just by looking at him or her.

It's amazing. We are a country that constantly preaches and prides ourselves with religious freedom and tolerance and yet we are still having this discussion.

"Happy Holidays" is fine. It's cute and nice. But it is also generic and bland. It's safe. It's the go-to phrase. With "Happy Holidays" we are all the same, and sameness is definitely not a U.S.A theme. Come to think of it, sameness isn't a theme for this world, and we should be grateful for that. When I think of the word "holiday" I also think of people taking a break from work and going on vacation. There is nothing specific about it regarding the meanings behind the season. Plus, words like "Christmas," "Hanukkah," "Kwanzaa," etc. are way more colorful, exciting, and unique.

The beauty of winter holidays is that we all celebrate different cultures and when we wish each other such vast greetings, we share those cultures in harmony and perhaps even learn something about each other. Not articulating these words results in a missed opportunity for education and embracing various customs. Education opens up an opportunity for conversation, something we in this society never seem to have time for anymore or are capable of doing because we are too fearful of hurting feelings and causing controversy or our eyes are too locked onto our screens (which is where you are reading this, but I digress). Maybe that's why we don't.

In the wake of what has been going on in our country and world, what we are trying to strive towards? Isn't accepting everyone the ultimate goal?

I often think of this photo and thought about it a lot the day the guy told me not to say "Merry Christmas."

During a time when the human race is in such turmoil with so much prevalent hate, kindness is crucial. Is it really worth it to argue about how we choose to give it?

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