Yuletide Greetings

Its a week before Christmas, and as usual for recent times, part of the Holiday season this year is the debate over the use of terms like “Christmas” and other Christian terms for the holiday. Many Christians and “traditionalists” are fighting back against a wave of “political correctness” in recent years that has sought to remove many of the Christian labels from the Christmas season. Rather than Merry Christmas, lately we are encouraged to say “Happy Holidays” to include more people from faiths other than Christianity.

I can certainly see the point of those fighting against the name changes. Christmas is a pretty specific and important celebration in the Christian calender, and there really shouldn’t be any reason Christians can’t celebrate that in any way they want. On the other hand, those who support more inclusive terms also have a valid point … in a community where not everyone is celebrating Christmas, or even considers Christmas to be a relevant date, assuming that everyone you meet should have a “Merry Christmas” is ignoring the diversity of other people. Ironically, even Christians are guilty of “political correctness” … many of the traditions that we associate with Christmas actually come from ancient Pagan beliefs, long before Christianity ever came about. To get the Christmas we have today, Christians have historically re-named ancient pagan practices like tree decoration and superimposed their own stories on them. Yet today, there is a backlash against others who try to re-name Christmas in the name of more inclusive language.

In Dec 18’s Calgary Sun, Innocent Madawo has an interesting suggestion, one that seems like a good compromise. In his editorial on page 15, Madawo suggests we let everyone celebrate what they want. “If we can use different languages, interpreting for each other to bring understanding and harmony even in most volatile situations, why can’t I then greet my Muslim neighbour with a hearty “Merry Christmas” and have them happily respond “Happy Eid” (even though it’s in October)?” writes Madawo.

I like his suggestion … we really shouldn’t be ashamed of our own faith, or offended by the faith of others. But I think Madawo has it backwards. What sense is there in wishing a Muslim a “Merry Christmas?” She doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and while she may be merry on that day, it will be just another merry day, not a Merry Christmas. Likewise, what sense is there in wishing a Christian a “Happy Eid?” Again, the Christian doesn’t celebrate Eid. Instead, when I meet my Muslim friend, my wishes should coincide with what is important to THEM, not to me. I should hope they have a wonderful Eid (regardless of when it happens), because that wish is significant and important to them. If I am Christian, then they should wish me a Merry Christmas, because that is what would be significant and important to me. If I am a pagan, then Yuletide Greetings are perhaps more appropriate, as Happy Hanukkah would be to a Jewish friend.

And thats really where the desire to use a non-denominational term like “holidays” comes from. When we meet people on the street, strangers, we don’t know what religion they are, or what they celebrate. We can’t always pick the appropriate wish for the season, because religion is an internal thing, not something we usually wear on our sleeve. Happy Holidays is a greeting that is appropriate for anyone, regardless of their religion. It makes sense to say Happy Holidays to anyone, because everyone tends to have some holiday to celebrate near the winter solstice.

I’ve always felt that one of the strengths of Canada is that, rather than using the “melting pot” idea of the US, our patch-work quilt uses individual and unique strengths to build the strength of Canada as a whole. I can see Madawo’s point about using our differences to reach some understanding and a stronger community. Those differences should be celebrated, not ignored. But when we wish someone of another faith a “Merry Christmas” we are asking them to do what WE would enjoy and what WE hope for, not hoping they will enjoy what is significant to them. Its selfish to say Merry Christmas to a Muslim, but generous to say Happy Eid … the first asks them to enjoy what is significant to YOU, while the second asks them to enjoy what is significant to THEM. And when we don’t know what might be significant to another person, it makes far more sense to me to use a general term that includes what they consider significant, rather than using our own term and assuming they will find significance in it. I want everyone to enjoy whatever holiday they celebrate this time of year, and to my friends who are Christian, I will say a happy, hearty “Merry Christmas.” But I won’t presume that everyone else around me wants to celebrate Christmas … instead, I’ll presume they each have a significant holiday this time of year, and I will wish them a peaceful and happy holiday. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, I want to wish you peace and happiness in whatever is significant for you.

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