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Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Why is it so hard to say “Happy Holidays?”
We had a very nice group meeting last night with our MS Self Help Group. Everyone was invited to bring holiday cookies to share and we enjoyed cookies, a game and our usual conversation. At the end of the evening even I said “Merry Christmas” because it had become evident over the course of the evening that everyone present in our modestly-sized group celebrates Christmas. That makes it okay. If anyone had not been forthcoming about Christmas traditions at home or had mentioned honoring a holiday that wasn’t Christmas at this time of year I would have said “Happy Holidays.” This is not a new practice for me and I don’t understand how it can be offensive.
I’ve mentioned before that when I was 6 I made the decision to become a nun when I grew up. I think I also mentioned that by age 9 I decided Catholicism wasn’t for me. I consider myself a Universal Unitarian now and those years of “studying” to become a nun pretty much made me a Unitarian. It’s the concept of “studying” religion in elementary school. It never occurred to my very young self that if I wanted to learn how to be a good nun, “ask a nun.” I was in Catholic school; it’s not like finding a nun was difficult. But I listened and learned in class when we had our religion lessons and I watched my first-grade teacher and aware that there would be tougher things to learn when I was older but the most important thing I had to start doing was learn how to love everyone. An important part of that was understanding.
I went to different vacation bible schools, my parents were quite pleased that I wanted to go to bible school in the summer, and more than one week of it! I went to Bible School and youth events in various Christian churches and found them to be pretty much the same. It didn’t matter what you called your religion; if you love God and love people, God is pleased. Also the “golden rule” at home from the time we were kids agreed with that thought. It was was simple to our child-minds and it grew more immense and a little more challenging as we got older but it never changed. Mom’s rule was “Stay straight with God and stay straight with man.” How wonderfully simple. It was basically if you have self-respect and respect for other people, you’re okay. I still find that simple rule, although as an adult it's more difficult, to be a good golden rule.
When I was 7 or 8 my world got a little bigger. I wasn’t in Catholic School or Baptist and Methodist bible school and field trips. I was bowling now. Our bowling league wasn’t a religious event, it was just fun. Don’t ever think for a moment that kids don’t have serious discussions just like adults do. At bowling was the first time I asked someone else, “You mean you don’t celebrate Christmas?” Imagine a Catholic kid having a theological discussion with a Jewish kid at a bowling alley. That happened with no adults, no one insisting the other was wrong, respect and genuine interest in hearing about each others holidays. My fiends' idea of what Jesus did, a great rabbi and teacher, was different, but the stories and morals were the same. Over the course of a few months 2 things happened to me. First I formed the opinion that if God was able to make all things possible, why wouldn’t he have different ways to reach everyone? I mean if he made us all different wouldn’t he be what would make us comfortable with him adjusted for how he made us? Yes, as a child I REALLY deviated from the becoming a nun plan with that opinion. Your religious practices don’t matter if you’re a good person. I also never said “Merry Christmas” to people I didn’t know again. “Happy Holidays” included Hanukkah and that was nicer to my friends who were Jewish than to wish them to enjoy a holiday they don’t even celebrate. I still said “Merry Christmas” to family, friends I knew had Christmas, people in church, but never to someone I didn’t know. I thought of that as bringing my Christmas happiness to everyone not as anyone taking my holiday away from me.
I still say “Happy Holidays” to people I don’t know unless they’re wearing a Santa hat or a t-shirt that says something about Christmas. That’s still respect; sharing my holiday spirit rather than pushing my practices on someone I don’t even know. I don’t really know when erring on the side of respect became offensive to anyone. If anything in the holiday season, that becomes more anti-people every year, has or is still steering me away from the beliefs and traditions of my young childhood it’s not the people who aren’t me that want to respect and be respected, it’s the people who celebrate the same as I do that refuse to respect others.
If a stranger says “Happy Holidays” to you don’t say “You mean Merry Christmas” to them which essentially says their greeting isn’t good enough for you. Just smile and say “have a great holiday” back to them sharing whatever holiday spirit you hold in your heart. If respect is offensive to you maybe you’re the one “ruining Christmas.”
My Christmas wish is that everyone has a safe and joyful holiday season!