What’s with the Conflict?: Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

What's with the Conflict?: Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

I came across a question this week that hits on an ongoing conflict between some people wanting everyone to strictly address one another with a Merry Christmas, and others instead using  “Happy Holidays” around this time of year.

Here it goes:

“If we are supposed to be a melting pot and accepting of others beliefs, then what’s so wrong with saying Merry Christmas?”

There are other holidays celebrated in December besides Christmas. Actually, I believe people (including myself) say Happy Holidays to respect others who are not celebrating Christmas but may observe something else.

I think it’s ok to say Merry Christmas to someone else whom you actually know that celebrates the holiday, but much damage can be done by assuming that everyone already celebrates, or should celebrate it.

Although I acknowledge that the parts of my identity that are privileged can sometimes create blocks in my consciousness in terms of seeing the experiences of others who are different from myself, my experiences with being the “other” in other ways have given me a sensitivity to seeing marginalization in a variety of other areas.

For instance, I still struggle to find positive representations of people of color in media against the seemingly endless portrayals of them as crime-prone, ignorant, or threatening in some way.   This allows me to see that positive coverage in the mainstream media of other faiths and traditions is very limited and at times, non-existent.

One of my nieces wanted a doll for a gift, but while shopping for her, I couldn’t help but notice how difficult it was, and still is to find a black doll in the stores. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find certain staple foods that fit holidays of other faiths and traditions, and other items which might be important.

What if you had to walk around society at this time of year, as many do, and have people automatically assume that you find the same significance in a certain day as they do?

no war on christmasI’m sure all would be well if you fit into the category, but what if you didn’t?

So why all the Pushback?

These are some complaints I’ve heard in the past week against using “Happy Holidays”:

“There’s a war on Christmas! These are people who want to take the “Christ” out of Christmas !”
“They (whoever “they” are) want us to be accepting of  their stuff but they don’t wanna accept ours! MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
“This politically correct garbage is destroying the American Way of Life”

The charge against “political correctness” is a response that I often hear in discussions about the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holiday conflict.

In one of her Blog posts, writer Tami Winfrey Harris wrote about political correctness:

“Disdain for “political correctness” is often positioned as a concern that some important truth is not being spoken for fear of offending someone.

But that concern is nothing but smoke and mirrors. To invoke “political correctness” is really to be concerned about loss of power and privilege. It is about disappointment that some “ism” that was ingrained in our society, so much that citizens of privilege could express the bias through word and deed without fear of reprisal, has been shaken loose.

 Charging “political correctness” generally means this: “I am comfortable with my privilege. I don’t want to have to question it. I don’t want to have to think before I speak or act. I certainly don’t wish to inconvenience myself for the comfort of lesser people (whoever those people may be–women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.)”

“Because oppression is seen as systemic, we tend to absolve ourselves of blame, but unless someone chooses to identify themselves with institutions and systems, the act of honest confession will never take place”–Author unknown

I acknowledge that my Christian upbringing grants me a certain element of power in this conversation that those who do not have the background or connection would lack.

Christian Privilege?

Yes, much similar to White privilege, Male privilege, Heterosexual privilege, Ability privilege  and others, it does exist.

Here are some examples:

  • I can talk about my religious practices openly without fear of how it will be received by others.

  • I can be sure to hear music on the radio or watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.

  • I can share my holiday greetings without being fully conscious of how it may impact those who do not celebrate the same holidays. Also, I can be sure that people are knowledgeable about the holidays of my religion and will greet me with the appropriate greeting (eg. Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, etc).

  • I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.

And the list goes on. For a more detailed explanation, see 40 Examples of Christian Privilege.

The original source can be found in  Schlosser, L. Z. (2003). Christian privilege: Breaking a sacred taboo. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 31(1), 44-51.

What of the Melting Pot Question?

Things are still very much one-sided in a variety of ways. Unless “melting pot” in the context of this conversation means dropping all elements of one’s culture in order to fit inside a dominantly established framework, I think much work needs to be done before the country truly measures up to the inclusive “melting pot” ideal. I only hope that in my life and work I am able to contribute in a positive way in working towards that goal.

However, acknowledging experiences outside of our own, and  being inclusive of others with a Happy Holidays can take it one step closer.

This Aspiring Humanitarian is truly wishing you Happy Holidays, however you may choose to celebrate.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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10 Responses

  1. Carol Winn says:

    I think the issues of polarity on this planet show up in so many different ways. For example, my identity vs your identity; up :down; right: wrong; christian: other… . The issues around polarity, though, is that they are only justified if there is only one way to see something. For example, if there is only an up, there is no need for the word up or down, right? It just is. On our polar planet, however, we constantly struggle with the WHOLE, don’t we? Because there is an up and down, we are constantly struggling with the WHOLE or COMPLETENESS and our individual, cultural, religious, professional place within it. Because we have words in our language, on our planet, that indicate opposites, like up and down, it is also inferred that there is everything in between. If you are positioned in the polar domain you easily find yourself dealing with opposites or opposing perspectives to your position. However, on our planet that polar language provides a range of perspective, that is WHOLE. At some point in life or our lives, we have to deal with the WHOLE or racisms, censorship, classists, economics (rich and poor), and other polar ranges continue to challenge our evolution. Don’t you think? So Merry Christ-mas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, and Good and Happiness to All! I say!

    • Thank you so much Carol for joining the conversation, and offering your very important perspective!

      I like how you emphasized the importance of addressing the wholeness and the range of a variety of perspectives on different issues of identity. Your words remind me of Ubuntu: http://www.relandothompkinsjones.com/ubuntu-a-humanitarians-philosophy/ , a humanitarian philosophy that talks about how we are all interconnected.

      As you’ve said, “At some point in life or our lives, we have to deal with the WHOLE of racisms,censorship, classists, economics (rich and poor), and other polar ranges that continue to challenge our evolution”, and I think having a commitment to continuous learning, and working to become more inclusive are some ways that can help us in that pursuit to address wholeness more fully.

      Thank you for taking time out of your day to comment.

  2. kagmi says:

    I can’t help but feel that the whole “Merry Christmas” issue has become very confused by the fact that Christmas has become both an American culture celebration and a Christian religious one.

    Many Americans who celebrate Christmas, perhaps most of them, see it in a deeply religious light and feel that the holiday doesn’t exist without the Bible–which is, of course, technically correct.

    But because Christmas is so pervasive in American culture at this time of year, and because atheism and agnosticism are growing, ever-increasing numbers of people celebrate a holiday called Christmas on December 25th with no necessarily divine meaning behind it. Many atheists and agnostics celebrate Christmas in some form as a matter of tradition, culture, and the value of giving and receiving from the people you love.

    So all this is a bit confusing. From my perspective, some standoffish Christians insist that everybody celebrate Christmas around the holidays–but they also get irritated when people attribute a meaning to Christmas other than the explicitly religious one. I’ve seen the same people criticize the saying of “happy holidays” and the airing of TV Christmas movies that say nothing about the birth of Christ. And I think to myself “you can’t have it both ways; either only religious Christians celebrate Christmas, or everybody celebrates it and the holiday comes to be seen as a less specifically religious thing.”

    • Thanks for stopping by Kagmi! I read your blog post on this issue, and found it to be very insightful! Your words remind me of Carol’s point about some of the struggles we can face when we’re only willing to look at an issue from one polarized end of the spectrum.

      But what you say is true. There are those who celebrate Christmas from an explicitly religious standpoint, while others choose to observe it in their own ways, with or without the religious context.

      Even still, as you’ve mentioned in your own post, there are a host of other holidays celebrated towards the end of the year. I think saying “Happy Holidays” is one way to acknowledge that. When we are in our own circles, whatever those may be, our conversations might change in terms of the terminology we might use with those who we are familiar with, but I think H.H. helps to make room for others and can minimize marginalization.

  3. We did cover the same topic, and I like how you wrote about it. I’ve been saying Happy Holidays for over a decade and it’s pretty much second nature to me. I’ve never really cared how people might perceive it; I say it to cover all bases. Well, that and I’m not religious, so I don’t have to get into it with anyone who might believe in something.

    • Hey Mitch,

      I liked the way you wrote about this issue on your blog as well, and I also appreciated your point to follow up my comment on your post where you said “when looking at the topic of holidays, all are important to someone.”

      I think this is so true, and try to take great care when addressing people around the holidays.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Glad you agree!!

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