Well Wishes, Watered Down

Don’t lose tradition and sincerity along the way

A woman I know well wished me a Happy Holiday during a phone conversation last week. She is someone who goes to church every Sunday, and anyone who knows her would call her a devout Christian. She knows that my family background is Catholic. So, why would she say Happy Holidays instead of invoking the spirit of the Christmas that we each knew our families would soon be celebrating?

“Happy Holidays” has all the charm of the jingle of that chirpy ring tone that came programmed on your cell phone. If Happy Holidays were bottled, it would be NA beer, which you sip all the while reminding yourself that you are experiencing beer, sort of. Your mind has to take an extra step to allow you to actually enjoy the beverage, but you try to appreciate it anyway.

“Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” both emerged as cease-fire agreements in one front of a culture war that should never have started. There are and always will be those true believers who want to use their holiday to pummel their message of redemption into the minds of those who have a different take on the world, like those guys who holler their “good news” about us all going to hell while we are trying to get into the Carrier Dome for a basketball game (seriously, what is the success rate of those loonies?). On the flip side, there will always be overly sensitive folks perceiving an insult when none is intended.

But most of us just want to share some good wishes, like a holiday punch. If I offer you a cookie and you are on a gluten-free diet, you can say “no, thanks” without thinking I’m out to get you, right? The key here is to look at intent: Is someone seeking to foster oppression, or simply to share a greeting?

We have reached a point where no one wants to offend anyone who might be different, which is a good idea. But in a multicultural society, when we offer up these canned platitudes instead of sharing from the richness of holiday traditions, we all lose out.

We don’t refrain from bringing Christmas cookies to the office for fear of offending diabetics, do we? So why not share the particular nature of our holiday joy with a bit more sincerity? The holiday you celebrate has a specific texture, a history, a taste to it, and you should feel free to wish others all the joy it brings you, without fear.

So if I wish you a Merry Christmas, what I’m saying is that I wish you all the happy feelings that I associate with that particular feast. Nothing more, nothing less.

And you can wish me the same from whatever tradition or non-tradition you embrace. It will be a sign that we have overcome the fear that being different somehow means we have to be at odds.

If I say “Happy Holidays” it means I’m not sure we’re there yet. Or it might just mean I don’t want to fight tonight.

Or as my colleague Walt Shepperd never fails to say each time we part, “Peace.”

I think I’ll try that one on.

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