Saturday, March 13, 2010

Holiday Greetings and Bad Feelings

Now that we're safely months after the stress and excitement of the holidays, I want to share a thought that occurred to me during this last year's seemingly inevitable conflict between people who wish others well broadly with Happy Holidays and those who wish narrowly with Merry Christmas.

I'm confident there are many layers to this strangely divisive conflict. When I was a child, I heard both greetings, and it was understood that Happy Holidays meant Christmas and New Year, not holidays from other religions or cultures. It seems to me that a portion of both Christians and people I refer to as "culturally Christian" feel very threatened by our increasingly diverse society. Even though they are and likely will remain an enormous majority of the US population, they make claims of being 'oppressed' by anyone who doesn't say Merry Christmas. It has always seemed childish to me.

This year I had an experience of conflict with a Christian friend, however, that gave me an insight. In the midst of the usual go-round of "I say 'Merry Christmas' to you because you're Christian - why do you say it to me, knowing that I'm not? It's rude!" it occurred to me that when I offer a holiday greeting to someone, it's about their identity because I'm offering it to them. Maybe there's another perspective in which I offer my religion's blessing because it is mine to offer. I'm not sure what guidance that gives me about how to manage religious diversity in my circle of friends, but it's interesting to me anyway.

One of the arguments that my Christian friend put forward this year, however, feels wrong to me. Something along the lines of Christmas having become a secular holiday. What? No! Keep the Christ in Christmas! It's important to you guys! Besides, all the trappings of trees and gifts and lights feasts are from my religion. If you're going to steal all our beautiful practices to dress up your Middle Eastern desert religion, at least have the courtesy of making good use of them!!!!