Monday, December 12, 2011

"Happy Holidays," Another Kind of Peace Sign



© 2009-2011 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved



I love my friends who “want to put Christ back in Christmas,” and I honor their viewpoint. I grew up with strong Catholic roots, and I love celebrating the birthday of Jesus. But I don’t think saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” necessarily does the trick of what’s at the heart of that Christ in Christmas expression—making people act more Christ-like or more aware of the religious roots of the season.

In fact, it can have the exact opposite effect. I am rarely this blunt, but I have to say it. In certain contexts, “Merry Christmas” is rude. It alienates Jews, Muslims, and practitioners of a variety of other religions or beliefs other than Christian. In a not so subtle way, it imposes your viewpoint on other people by just assuming they share it. “Happy Holidays” acknowledges the vast number of faiths that exist and respects a person’s right not to believe at all. It says, “Whatever you celebrate or don’t, I wish you well during this time of year where there’s a surge in generosity of spirit.”

Let’s put this in perspective. No one wants to inhibit your freedom to say Merry Christmas at church, among fellow Christians at home or in any other setting, except those that are more public where people of all faiths converge. If you know someone is Christian, “Merry Christmas” the right thing to say. “Happy Chanukah” is the appropriate greeting for someone who’s Jewish. Happy Solstice is a good bet for your favorite agnostic.

 But out and about, where you might not know someone’s spirituality or lack thereof—that’s another story. Here’s an empathy experiment. Imagine you’re Christian and you just landed on a planet where Christianity is not the norm. It’s a festive time of year and people are shouting (pick one) Happy Chanukah, Allah Be Praised, or Atheists Rock! No one acknowledges your beliefs, and you feel like a lonely petunia in an onion patch. If your beliefs are close to your heart, this can be painful and isolating. At best, it is hurtful or irritating; at worst, when done consistently, it contributes to an intimidating atmosphere where people do not feel safe to share themselves. Beliefs reflect the core of who we are.



How little it takes to acknowledge and celebrate diversity.

When “Happy Holidays” first became the politically correct greeting, I, too, resented it. I felt like a lifetime of celebrating the season in a way that wove religion, spiritual perspective, and general goodwill had been forcibly replaced by something that sounded secular and cold. It took me a long time to get the point. We are free to “talk amongst ourselves” in a very candid way in any homogenous group, but once we mix it up, we have to consider the comfort of others. It’s the Golden Rule. It’s the teaching of Jesus at his best, and I daresay of the prophets from any number of other religions.

Inclusiveness is the epitome of Christianity. Jesus ministered to the fringe of society—the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised. This loving kindness and welcoming is reflected in the beliefs of many other paths up the mountain. I appreciate that there are those who believe in their heart of hearts that their faith is the one and only way to salvation. But out in the world, it’s not OK with me—or a lot of other people—to emphasize it. Religion can be even more divisive than politics and this time of year, especially, we need to focus on the love in which we’re all joined. There will never be peace on earth unless we learn to stand comfortably in our beliefs while respecting each other’s unique way of seeing things.

Lastly, we are wrong to assume that saying “Happy Holidays” is secular or implies a person whose only interest in December is shopping and the presents she receives. As one of my friends recently reminded me, the word “holiday” is derived from “holy day.” You can make the winter celebrations more ecumenical or universal, but you can’t deny their roots. Many people would be surprised to know that the Christian holiday traditions drew heavily from pre-existing pagan practices. The original “Christians” were Jews before they split into two separate faiths. The simple expression, “Happy Holidays,” has a lot more togetherness behind it than meets the eye. The degree to which that’s true depends on the mind and heart of the person saying it.

Let’s try a collective experiment. The next time you say “Happy Holidays,” make it an open-minded, open-hearted outpouring of goodwill and the only true gift anyone you can give anyone—to love them just the way they are.

~~~

Photo credit: +EPS WORLD RELIGIONS, DOVE © Casejustin 

This post is a reprint from my blog, Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights, originally published on 10-Dec-09.

Extra! Reader Linda from Tempe, AZ shared a carol in the spirit of this message. She doesn't know the source, so if anyone else knows how to attribute it, please let me know--and I will. I'm also using it at my own Winter Solstice celebration this year.

Share the Light

(To the tune of the First Noel)


On the winter holiday

Let us stop and recall

That this season is holy

To one and to all.


Unto some a Son is born

Unto us comes the Sun

And we know, even if they don’t.

All paths are one.


Share the light, share the light!

Share the light, share the light!

All paths are one path.

On this holy night.


Be it Chanukah, or Yule,

Christmas Eve: Solstice night,

All of them celebrate

Eternal light


Lighted tree or burning log.

Or the eight candle flames.

All gods are honored.

What ever their names.


Share the light, share the light!

Share the light, share the light!

All paths are one path.

On this holy night.


 

4 comments:

Lana said...

Dear Joyce

This post is so close to my heart! I was born Jewish in this lifetime, to agnostic parents, and was not indoctrinated in matters of faith. As a child I developed my own relationship with God, and through school teaching also a relationship with Jesus. You are so right, I always was hurt by the contention that no one of another faith could enter heaven – I knew it could not be true! Two books proved very healing in early adulthood in this particular respect, and they were both Spiritualist. The first, which I read at 21, was “The Unbroken Link” by Rose Ling, which described the spheres of heaven, and brought back memories of pre-birth. The second, which I read a few years later, was “The World Beyond” by Ruth Montgomery, which described the surprise of people of one faith when they passed over and discovered that people of all faith were in heaven! Since childhood, if anyone has asked me my religion, I have replied “Universalism”, trying to honour all faiths and promote tolerance. The origins and source of all religions are mystical and in agreement about the truths of love and harmlessness, and the barriers between religion are artificial constructions which have arisen since. We have passed through all religions in our past lives. God created everyone, regardless of where they happened to be born. Peace to all! And a big thankyou to you.

Love
Lana

Joyce Mason said...

Lana, I'm so happy to know your story and that this post touched your heart. There's a Native American expression about not judging someone until you've walked a mile in their moccasins. Maybe this holiday season, we need to put ourselves in others' shoes and simply try to understand their perspective. I think this becomes so emotionally charged because we build our lives around our beliefs, and if we encounter a different viewpoint that makes us think, we might (gulp!) have to consider changing. And we know how well most people do with that, LOL!

Because I grew up Catholic in a Jewish neighborhood, I learned to treasure aspects of both religions. That stretched me to always look for the good in every path.

Love and Happy Holidays!
Joyce

Mads Elung-Jensen said...

in Denmark we say 'god jul', happy yuletide, our viking greeting has managed to survive some 1000 years of various forms of Christendom.

Congratulations on finishing your novel, Joyce, fingers crossed that you'll succeed in the competition, what an achivement, making a big plan and pulling it through!

All the best for the new year, Mads

Joyce Mason said...

Hi, Mads! I love "god jul" and may share that with the women at my Solstice gathering!

Thanks for all your good wishes. I've had an amazing 2010 full of both hard work and satisfying accomplishments, both inner and outer. It would be great to win the contest, which I visualize often. If not, having it as impetus to get my novel done is a big enough win. I plan for it to be on its way to publication in 2012, one way or another!

Have a wonderful holiday season and New Year,

Joyce