A couple of years ago, I was a frequenter of a message board for moms, moms-to-be and aspiring moms. At first it was a fun place to go and discuss the kind of things that no one in real life wanted to hear about, such as ovulation. After a while, though, the fertility and pregnancy conversations lost their allure and I ventured onto the general subject matter forums. That may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. It turns out that message boards – or at least this message board – are where people go to state their opinions, find others with similar opinions, and gang up on anyone who disagreed with them. And the factionalizing wasn’t limited to hot button topics such as politics; the shrill posturing and belittling extended into such mundane subjects as whether it’s ok to leave shopping carts loose in a parking lot. Did you know that you’re scum bound for damnation if you leave your shopping cart loose? You’re also scum bound for damnation if you leave you child in the cart while you put groceries in the trunk, especially if the temperature is below about 65 degrees. Yeah. That board was educational, to say the least.
One of the most startling discussions I was privy to was one about what retail workers say to customers in the month of December. This is apparently a subject of great dissent and the future of civilization relies on getting the answer just right. The women who were discussing this had the answer: one should say “Merry Christmas” and nothing but “Merry Christmas” because, and I quote, “Jesus is the reason for the season”. So. There.
Yeah. Um…except that the Maccabees were victorious over the Syrians several hundred years before the birth of Jesus so…Hanukkah came first. Nyah.
I never actually said that to the vehement Christmas-defenders on my message board because I didn’t especially want to be cyber-eviscerated but I was shocked at their deep sense of affront to the all inclusive “Happy Holidays” as December greeting. I had always thought of that phrase as being a pleasant catch-all, a nice way of wishing people an enjoyable time celebrating any holiday from Thanksgiving to New Year’s because the likelihood is that anyone you speak to will recognize at least one of the panoply of holidays that stretch from November to January. I don’t ever presume to know what people are celebrating at this time of year because it’s pretty hard to tell unless a person is wearing obvious markers of faith such as a a yarmulke or a Muslim head scarf (and even then I’m not likely to wish someone a blessed Ramadan or Eid ul-Fitr because I can never remember the correlation of the Muslim calendar and the Julian calendar and don’t want to sound like an idiot). And I certainly don’t feel the need to press my holiday preference on people without knowing if they share it. Willfully wishing someone in a yarmulke a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Solstice” would really just make me an asshole, don’t you think?
But there are people out there who have really drunk the “assault on Christmas” kool-aid and they genuinely think that saying anything other than Merry Christmas is a deliberate and malicious attempt to derail Christians from their spiritual path. I’ve even heard of these people deciding to boycott stores that use “Happy Holidays” as the greeting of choice because they think it’s an attempt to secularize the season. They don’t seem to give a damn about the numerous other holidays than can take place during December. Instead, they keep their Christmas blinders on and ignore the fact they they might be wishing a “Merry Christmas” to someone who doesn’t celebrate it or appreciate being told to do so.
And that? Is religious chauvinism.
I personally recognize about four different winter holidays: Hanukkah because my father’s side of the family is Jewish, Christmas because my mother’s side of the family is Christian, the Solstice because I have pagan leanings and love the celebration of darkness to light, and New Year’s because I like drinking. So you can pretty safely toss a holiday greeting of any sort in my direction and you won’t be wrong. But I’m weirdly multi-theistic and you’re not always going to get so lucky. That’s why “Happy Holidays” was such a great compromise greeting: it applies to everyone and leaves out no one and makes no assumptions about personal faith. But now there are people who might beat you with a tinsel garland for saying that. Pretty soon the only safe thing to say in December will be “Have a great day!” . Or perhaps a preemptive “Fuck off!” in case a person might about to wish you a “Happy Solstice” when you’re a devotee of another holiday and don’t want to bother respecting anyone else.
I say we all agree to be nice this month and assume that anyone talking to you is doing it out of a spirit of goodwill towards their fellow man. Don’t get offended by holiday greetings, even if they’re not overtly for your favorite holiday. There’s enough in this world to get upset about, the words “Happy holidays” shouldn’t be on the list.