Friday, December 19, 2008

We Wish You an Inoffensive Holiday

The other day, I swear I saw a commercial with people singing “we wish you a happy holidays.” Now, I could be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the lyrics to that Christmas classic actually include the word Christmas. Also merry.

The whole “war on Christmas” thing has been done to death, honestly. Those unfortunate enough to work in retail at this time of year experience all sorts of backlash for whatever season’s greeting they choose: “Merry Christmas” often draws criticism from a superior, “Happy Holidays” makes many customers angry, and actually saying “Season’s Greetings” makes them sound like poorly-programmed robots.

(I realize the previous paragraph is filled with extremely broad generalizations. There are some people, somewhere, who are actually offended by “Merry Christmas,” but I’ve never encountered them outside of the internet and talk radio.)

I’ll never forget the issue of American Girl Magazine I got many years ago, back when I, myself, was an American Girl. It was the holiday issue. You have to understand that this magazine always went to great pains to be all-inclusive; nothing in that magazine implied that any of its readership would be celebrating any holiday in particular, even though I’m sure 90% of them had a Christmas tree. You want Kwanzaa activities? They had Kwanzaa activities.

Now, this particular year, as a craft activity, they featured some kind christmas-scene of ornament you could make with bend-up wire hangers or something. Typical American Girl fare. Bear in mind that, at no point in the instructions did they refer to “hanging it on a tree.” This ornament could go in your window, or on your festive Solstice Snowman for all they cared. They featured many different shapes and colors, all of which were inoffensively winter-themed.

Still, in the following issue, they printed a letter from a disgruntled Jewish girl, wanting to know “what they were supposed to do if they celebrated Hanukkah.” If I’d been on that editorial team, my response would have been “make a Star of David and stop having a complex about it.” Luckily, I wasn’t. The real-life editorial team explained, gingerly, that it was their understanding that this craft activity could be adapted to any holiday.

I guess my point in all this is pretty simple. If an overworked clerk at Target says Happy Holidays to you, or if a magazine features a craft activity that looks suspiciously Christmas-y, it is really, honestly, not a personal attack on you or your faith.

Newsflash to everyone: pretty much nobody cares how you celebrate this time of year. The small percentage of people that do care aren’t the people that you need to worry about. The people who will ultimately disenfranchise you are the people who are trying way, way too hard not to hurt your feelings.

The whole concept of taking a Christmas carol and changing the lyrics so it’s no longer about Christmas? Bizarre. Plus, if you carry this out to its natural conclusion, it becomes painfully redundant: We wish you a happy holidays, and a happy New Year. What?

Here’s the thing. This time of year is about love and family and giving and feeling that warm fuzzy feeling inside. The modern Christmas celebration is a big part of that, and you know what? That is okay. It doesn’t mean your holiday is any less of a holiday. Celebrate it with pride. If someone says Merry Christmas to you, they are wishing you joy in their own way. Smile, and respond with whatever greeting makes you the most comfortable. The same goes if someone says Happy Holidays, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Whatever. In the unlikely event that someone’s actually trying to upset you with their chosen holiday greeting, they’re not the type of person who deserves positive reinforcement. Grin and bear it.

There is a surprising amount of joy and peace to be found in the realization that most people just want to do their own thing, and let you do yours. If we can all start living like responsible adults who don’t care what other people do to celebrate the holidays in their own homes, then the world would be a much happier place.