Thursday, December 15, 2005

Merry Christmas!

There's nothing wrong with wishing someone a Happy Holidays, or Season's Greetings. I'll often do this, and will do it especially with people who I know either don't celebrate Christmas or are in mixed-faith families.

That said, I hate the idea that someone would be offended by hearing the phrase "Merry Christmas" directed at them.

Every day, around the world, people have statements directed at them which don't necessarily apply. People are offered gifts which they choose not to receive. Food and drink are offered to individuals who don't partake in them. The usual response? "No, thank you." Not, "How dare you?"

And yet the "How dare you?" attitude is the one I hear from numerous people who don't celebrate Christmas, and it's the attitude that is leading the confrontation-weary majority to cater to the easily-offended minority by wishing people blandly pleasant seasonal greetings.

Which of these does not belong?

"Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"No, thank you, I don't drink caffeine," says the Mormon.

"God bless you!"
"Thanks," says the atheist.

"Want a beer while I'm up?"
"No, thanks, I don't drink," says the Moslem.

"Want me to grab you a burger from the grill?"
"No, thanks, I don't eat meat," says the vegan.

"Oh, it's your birthday? Happy Birthday!"
"Thanks," says the Jehovah's Witness, "but I don't celebrate birthdays."

"Merry Christmas!"
"I'm Jewish, you insensitive clod. Wish me a Happy Holidays!"

This is not a strawman I'm putting up here to get cheap indignation. This is an actual reponse which I've received from co-workers and retail employees (wording might be slightly modified for amusement factor).

What I want to tell these people is that I really don't care if you celebrate Christmas or not. Part of how I celebrate is to wish you a Merry Christmas. And it does you absolutely zero harm to accept that wish in the spirit with which it was offered. I'm not saying "Accept Christ you heathen," I'm saying, "I hope on December 25 and the surrounding days, you find some merriment and joy in life."

Let's take it a step further. If my sole reason for not wishing you a Merry Christmas is fear that you don't celebrate the same holiday I do, why should I wish you any holiday greeting? Plenty of people choose to celebrate no holidays during the winter solstice period. If "Merry Christmas" offends a Jewish or Islamic person, then "Happy Holidays" will offend a Jehovah's Witness ... or a grinch, I guess. So let's not wish anybody a Happy Holiday.

I guess we could go with the overly-bland "Season's Greetings," which has no real meaning at all. Kind of hard to get offended when what I've basically said is, "Hello, and did you notice it's winter?"

That noise you can't hear is me rolling my eyes.

Part of being in a "melting pot" culture is accepting the fact that you're going to get some other people's cultures melted onto you at times. Freedom to believe should also include the responsibility to respect other people's beliefs and their desire to observe those beliefs.

If we take the approach of dialing back any cultural tradition which could possibly offend anyone, we'll eventually have a completely bland culture. Instead of melting together the greatest aspects of everyone, we'll try and find a lowest common denominator. The result won't make anybody happy, but at least it won't offend anyone, right? Is that what anyone really wants? I don't. I want a world where I am constantly in awe of the diversity we all supposedly pay lip service to.

Come on. If you can't handle being told "Merry Christmas," I honestly don't know how you function in today's society without being in a constant state of alarm, grief, and indignation. I mean, really, don't we have bigger issues to worry about?

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