Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

by Annette Dashofy

As a farm girl, I led a sheltered early life. Everyone I knew celebrated Christmas. So we said, “Merry Christmas.” After I got out into the world a bit and became aware of the diversity of human beings in the world, I came to the realization that there were other faiths, other beliefs, other holidays taking place during the month of December. By that time I was working retail and so my typical wish to my customers as they left the store with their purchases became “Happy Holidays!” Seasons Greetings just sounded too greeting cardish. It was my attempt at not excluding anybody. Even if you only celebrated Thanksgiving and New Years, those were holidays and included in the wish.

How was I to know what a stir that simple greeting would create in these ultra-sensitive times???

At the risk of creating a fury here at Working Stiffs, I’m going to voice-in on this controversy.

Anymore, I use both greetings. I figure I split their usage about 50/50. When I wish someone “Happy Holidays,” I don’t mean disrespect to Christians or Christmas. It’s my attempt to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

Celebrating during this time of year goes back tens of thousands of years. The Druids celebrated the turning away of darkness and the return to light during the Winter Solstice. Many Christmas traditions were adopted from these times including the burning of the Yule log, decorating a pine tree, hanging wreaths made of evergreen, holly and ivy and even kissing under the mistletoe.

Hanukkah is the celebration of lights and the survival of the Jewish people. At the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, there was only enough consecrated olive oil left to light the eternal flame for one night, but miraculously it burned for eight, long enough to prepare and consecrate more oil.

Younger holidays include Kwanzaa and Pancha Ganapati, the latter created for Hindu children, so they wouldn’t feel left out of all the merriment.

Pancha Ganapati runs from December 21 to the 25th. The focus of day one is creating harmony within the immediate family. Day two focuses on harmony with neighbors, relatives and close friends. In the days that follow, attention shifts to business associates and music, arts, drama and dance. Finally on the final day, the family experiences an outpouring of fondness and tranquility from God. Gifts are then opened.

Kwanzaa runs from December 25 to January 1 and celebrates the principles of unity, self-determination, community responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

I’m happy to say that of those listed, I’ve taken part in all of them at one time or another in one form or another. One year, I had such a wonderfully diverse group of yoga students that I received from them Christmas gifts, Pancha Ganapati gifts and a Kwanzaa gift.

There are probably more that I’m not aware of. If I’ve missed something, I apologize. Please leave a comment and enlighten me.

So as we approach the longest night of the year and celebrate by chasing the darkness with our decorative lights, let me wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Pancha Ganapati, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice…and Happy Holidays!


Tory said...

So, what's the problem with "Happy Holidays"? I don't get it.

Though, I guess the basic principal is that, no matter what you do, it makes SOMEONE unhappy.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see someone standing up and realizing this time of year is about more than Christmas versus Hanukkah, which is a stupid comparison to begin with.

Thanks, Annette.

(Tory, the problem with Happy Holidays is that the people who are huge fans of Christmas feel that it's wrong to erase Christmas from this time of year and by moving to a more generic Happy Holidays greeting, that is what is happening)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan. I was afraid I was going to get rotten tomatoes thrown at me for this post. I'm not erasing Christmas, I'm trying to be inclusive of all the "other" holidays as well.

Cathy said...

At least half of my massage clients at the Rivers Club (not to mention my fiance) are Jewish. If I wished them all a merry Christmas, I'd come out looking pretty ignorant. Happy holidays is a more respectful greeting.

Great post, Annette.

Joyce said...

I'm going to weigh in on the Merry Christmas side. Don't throw things at me!

While Happy Holidays might be more "inclusive," (Holiday by the way comes from "Holy Day") it's really not correct when referring to the holiday we celebrate on December 25th. I have no problem saying "Happy Hanukkah" to my Jewish friends during Hanukkah, or if I knew someone who celebrated any of the other days mentioned, I'd wish them happy whatever day.

Christmas has been celebrated on Dec. 25th since 354 AD. Although banned by protestants during the Reformation, and then again by the Puritans because it was too secular, it has nonetheless continued.

Most of the so-called secular aspects of Christmas are actually Christian in origin. Santa Claus comes from St. Nicholas who was a Catholic bishop in the 4th century. The Christmas tree was started in the 16th century and was decorated with apples signifying Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Candy canes were designed after shepherds' staffs to signify the shepherds who were the first to hear about the birth of the baby Jesus. It goes on and on.

What bothers me the most about this Happy Holidays thing is that it's only been the last few years since people started saying, "Oh we can't say Merry Christmas. It might offend someone." Well, so what? I think people have become way too sensitive about these things.

It's been Christmas for thousands of years and that's how it should stay.

And I still love you guys, even though we have different opinions!

Pat said...

How do I sign up for Pancha Ganapati? That sounds great.

lisa curry said...

What a nice post, Annette. I learned a lot from reading it, so thanks. This is a happy time of year, and everyone should be included in the warmth and fuzziness, I think. I tend to go with the generic "Happy Holidays" unless I am certain of the person's faith/beliefs and can safely be more specific.

Kristine said...

As writers, I guess we all can appreciate the power that certain words have on society and how people interpret them. Sometimes, however, I think it can get out of hand.

As for me, I have to agree with Joyce on this one. It all comes down to intention. When referring to the holiday on December 25 with Christmas trees and Santa, the correct greeting is "Merry Christmas."

When referring to the season over all, which includes all the holidays--Thanksiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's, etc.--and within a group of people who don't all celebrate the same thing, it's appropriate to say "Happy Holidays."

That's how I feel about it, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, I knew I'd start some discussion with this one. As I mentioned, I do use Merry Christmas, too, but if I don't know the particular belief system of the person to whom I'm speaking, I choose Happy Holidays. I don't feel to do so is disrespectful to Christians, but I fear that assuming a person celebrates Christmas might be disrespectful to a person who doesn't.

FYI, there are Christian sects that do not celebrate Christmas since there technically is no record of the date of Jesus's birth. Early Christians chose December 25 because of Solstice already celebrating rebirth on or around that date and it made the "new" holiday more easily accepted.

And, Pat, yeah, I like Pancha Ganapati, too. I celebrate it right along with Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog and understood what you are saying. I think the Birth of Jesus should be celebrated in the Summer when he was born but not with gifts but with worship.The only gift we can really gove Jesus on his bithday is ourselfs and go ahead and change Christmas to winter holiday.

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