Monday, December 26, 2011

Words for Christmas, or Merry Christmas, anyway

About this time of year, I see  articles and postings about how people are bravely (and defiantly!) going around saying "Merry Christmas." The only problem is that no one has ever suggested that they shouldn't wish everyone they meet "Merry Christmas." It reminds me of a Tom Lehrer bit where he talks about people getting up in coffeeshops to bravely sing folk songs about all those things that everyone else in the room is peace, love, and brotherhood.

The closest anyone ever came to do suggesting that "Merry Christmas" wasn't always a good idea was various organizations (not individuals) that represent or deal with a diverse body of people (WalMart, your government). Those organizations, rather than respond to every one of their constituents, adopted a neutral greeting (typically, "Happy Holidays"). People who, by default, had always had their way before were now incensed because they weren't being treated as if they were the only people in the world.

It would seem obvious that you can't have the government collect tax dollars from citizens of diverse faiths and then use that money to enforce your faith. Nor does a commercial organization, with potential customers of diverse faiths, want to appeal to just one segment of those customers. In both cases, rather than represent all faiths, the organizations have decided to represent none--which is too bad but (I guess) a choice made from efficiency.

If I was a generous person with respect for others I would make an attempt to learn about the faith of the people I was interacting with and, at the appropriate time of the year, wish them "Happy Hanukkah", or "Joyous Id." Embarrassingly, I don't make that effort and assume that others are just like me. Refusing to recognize that other people may differ from you and insisting, instead, that they be just like you and serve your needs is, I think, the base of all rudeness.

As part of this discussion, we'll get people who, rather than present their statements or actions as rude, claim they are taking a stand against "political correctness": What they are about to say is something brave and they are, somehow, defying authority. In fact, it always turns out that they are about to say something that asserts their special position in society, serves them before others, and claims some special privilege that they should get and others should not.

However, none of those things are either (a) Christian or (b) appropriate at Christmas. So, as Christian celebrating Christmas--Merry Christmas. And for all my friends who are practicing their faith--Happy Holidays!

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