Over the past few years the media has brought up the “war on Christmas” at the beginning of every December. The theory goes that in an attempt to be politically correct individuals and businesses have stopped wishing people a “merry Christmas” and instead use the more ambiguous “happy holidays”. Some pundits take offense to this secularization of a holy day while others merely wish to be more inclusive. To be honest the whole war on Christmas concept is lost on me. First of all, for many Americans Christmas is no more a holy day than Halloween. Instead it is a day for presents and family and I am ok with that. For some it means nothing at all and is just another day. Who am I to tell anyone what they should be celebrating and how. If you consider yourself a Christian and wish to celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday that is fine too. After all that is what the holiday started as. Many of these pundits are stirring up controversy simply for the sake of controversy itself. I don’t believe for a minute any of these television personalities cares about America losing its identity as a Christian nation, what they care about is ratings. I do however believe there are individuals who care about Christmas as a Christian holiday and who take real offense to being wished a happy holiday instead of a merry Christmas. These people have the right to celebrate a Christian Christmas if they wish (that is the meaning of a freedom of religion, freedom to practice whatever you want even if that is nothing). So when someone get offended when I say happy holiday I shrug it off. After all it is their right to be offended just as it is my right to not celebrate Christmas.
So what is the problem? Well the problem comes when you are working with people who become offended. The truth is no matter what you say someone will be offended. What if they don’t celebrate Christmas at all? What if they are Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu, or even (gasp) atheist?
What to say?
An individual’s decision to celebrate a holiday is a personal one and not one that we discuss often as is their religion or belief system. In the US we do not walk around with patches that advertise our religious beliefs. America is very diverse and as such there are a lot of different beliefs. Saying Happy Holidays means we are including everyone, not just Christians who celebrate Christmas. It also includes New Years so you are acknowledging the season not a specific holiday. Thus, this is what I would recommend saying. If someone shows offense and says “merry Christmas” back as a way to announce their preference, make a little joke. Say something like “I never know what people prefer, there are too many holidays to keep track of.” Do not get dragged into a debate about the de-Christianization of America (especially at work) it just isn’t worth it.
As for those of you who get offended, I have one suggestion – lighten up. I do not consider myself Christian, I do not believe in Christ and therefore Christmas to me isn’t a religious day. In fact I don’t really celebrate Christmas any longer. I use the day off as an opportunity to celebrate my family (which I love) and to reflect on how lucky I am to live in a country where I am not hanged because of my religious (or lack thereof) beliefs as well as my other “blessings”. That said, I do not get offended when someone says Merry Christmas to me. I know they are just trying to be pleasant so why be angry. It should be the same way when someone wishes a Christian happy holidays. Remember, this person is just trying to be nice and wish you happiness!
I was going to write about gift giving at work as well as the office holiday party but I feel this post is long enough already. I will write separate posts on each of these issues. In the meantime I would like to hear your thoughts on the whole “happy holidays”/”merry Christmas” debate.