It’s that time of year again for the great lingo-political debate that spreads across the USA faster than the swine flu. It’s a choice that we each must make when engaging in public. It’s more common than “paper or plastic”. Yes, the dreaded debate of which greeting to bestow upon your fellow citizens “Happy Holidays!” or “Merry Christmas!”Well, here’s my take on the situation. I see the point of many devout Christians that they should invoke the name of Jesus Christ around the time of the celebration of Christ’s birth. And, thanks to the First Amendment no one can take that right away from them. But this debate isn’t about free speech; it’s about meaningful communication. The point is often made that Jesus Christ is a recognized prophet in other religions, and it is therefore appropriate to wish “Merry Christmas” to everyone you meet in public.
The problem is that this is an overly broad assumption — yes, you can make the case for Muslims and Jews, perhaps, but this fact doesn’t hold for Hindus, Buddhists, and numerous other faiths. The reality is that our culture and that of Western Europe and wide swaths across most every continent have become diverse, globalized cultures. The perceived religious homogeneity of society in the U.S. for example does reflect the fact that a majority of Americans describe themselves as Christians. However, the point is moot when in public — at the super market, Home Depot or SuperCuts — you have no idea what faith the check out person, paint guy or hair stylist may practice (or not). The fact is that to wish someone Merry Christmas, when they may not even observe the holiday makes little sense from a communications perspective. By using that greeting without knowing how the recipient will receive it is akin to putting the Jesus fish on your car. Invoking the symbol or the greeting is more a statement about you and less about the kind wishes and warm feeling of the season you would like to extend to others.
Like it or not “Happy Holidays” works well in our society because it’s good communication. It is far more inclusive than “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hannukah” or “Happy Kwanzaa”. December is a month in which the three major faiths observed in the U.S. (Christianity—Christmas; Judaism—Hanukah; and Islam—Eid-ul-Fitr) all celebrate a significant holiday. It is a true season of holidays.
So, spread the cheer. And, while you’re at it do it in several languages! Happy Holidays to all!