Tuesday, December 25, 2007

On "Merry Christmas"

Last year, (or was it two years, now?) we heard way too much about the so-called "War on Christmas" where OReilly and Co. took on 'political correctness' in some sort of agenda to rid the world of Christmas cheer, or the real meaning of Christmas, or WWJD, or whatever it was.

This year, though, it feels like OReilly and friends had an impact. I'm hearing a lot more "Merry Christmas" than I used to.

Now, for me personally, there may be cause for this beyond some kind of national shift back toward Christmas, and away from Chrismakwanzukkah (how long ago was it now that that little neologism, or its OC-inspired precursor "Chrismukkah" was coined?). I've moved from a highly diverse metropolitan center to what I believe is one of the five least diverse states in the union. People here say "Merry Christmas" because there's a much more reasonable expectation that the recipient is actually celebrating that specific holiday.

The other factor is that we're celebrating more Christmas-specific traditions ourselves. As the children reach the age of serious Santa-belief, we've been taking on more of the rituals that we remember as children, including religious ones: the children's Christmas Eve pageant at the Episcopal church, carols make great lullabies, in fact, last night, we assembled an air-hockey table at 10, while munching on Santa's cookies (and Santa Mouse's bleu cheese).

But I was reminded that despite the overwhelming Christmassiness, the common courtesy that engendered "Happy Holidays" in the first place is still wildly appropriate. We took the kids out for brunch this morning and sat next to an Indian family (Asians make up about .5% of the state population, and in 2000, there were fewer than 3000 Asian Indians in the state). As the waiter fumbled over a "Merry Chri....," then realized that Christmas wasn't particularly relevant, nor was, to his knowledge, any specific holiday, he moved straight to "have a nice day."

Certainly his wish was as genuine as any Merry Christmas, or any Have a Nice Day, and it's hard to fault one utterance, but I was reminded, at the very least, how diverse environments matter: that an attention to difference, and one hopes an embrace of difference, keeps these well wishes from being awkward moments, and maybe reminds us to keep our wishes to one another genuine. It's an itsy little corner of how living in an increasingly global culture might change the ways we live, but today, it felt like a strangely important one.

So however you celebrate the winter solstice, if you're celebrating anything at all, I hope it's good. I hope your January 12 is good, and your March 7, and your June 7 is too. I hope the coming winter is warm and replete with sustenance, and I hope that the Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn't get you too bad (if it is, let's commisserate, which reminds me to get out my blue-light.).

Or Merry Christmas. Whatever you like, really.


SB said...

Thank you SO much for writing this. I've been trying for quite some time to explain to friends why it is that living in the US, even Xians should prefer "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas," and this says it so eloquently. Because we all have to live with each other with respect. Because my holiday might not be your holiday and I expect that same respect from you in return. Thank you.

neophyte said...

Well done. I've been living in largely homogeneous places, and on the other side of the ocean at that, for the past two "holiday seasons," and become inured to "Happy Christmas / Joyeux Noël." I found myself hideously embarrassed the other day when I asked a Jewish friend (I have few friends Stateside who aren't Jewish) if he was going home for Christmas. "No, I'm one of Them, remember?" Amnesia is a dangerous thing.

And, irrelevantly, I am particularly glad that I now understand that the unaccountable (and illegal) Mont d'Or I received yesterday from an unknown francophilic source was surely the work of Santa Mouse, the knowledge of whose existence warms my heart.

Artemis said...

Of course, that Indian family could have been xtian, no? I recently visited family in GA where I saw that the war has been recast over the "x" in xmas. I can't tell you how many times I was exhorted to put the "Christ" back in "xmas." Not that these same Protestants would be willing to put themselves in "mass" on Christmas Day, but whatever.