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?
I’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.
“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.
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