What? You think I’m jumping the gun by just a few months? Then, obviously, you’re not looking at a calendar. Rosh Hashanah begins on September 12th at sundown, and both Yom Kippur and Ramadan start on September 21st. And, apparently, Japan celebrates Respect for the Aged Day on September 17th.
Yet “Happy Holidays” is an unnecessary euphemism in September, because if you want to wish someone a Happy Respect for the Aged Day, you don’t have to do it in code words. You can actually mention the holiday in your greeting without fear of reprisal. Same with “Happy Halloween” or “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Can you see where I’m going with this?
The reason I really hate the expression “Happy Holidays” is that it turns “Merry Christmas” into a political statement. “Merry Christmas” no longer just means “I hope your Christmas is a merry one.” It now also means “SCREW the P.C. police! I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas if I damn well want to! The A.C.L.U. can’t tell me what to do!!”
Christmas shouldn’t be a time to pick a fight. It should be Christmastime – not “winter break” or “the holiday season.” And “Merry Christmas” should mean just what it says. I’m not sure how we can get back to that.
“Happy Holidays” defenders insist that they’re more tolerant and kind, because their greeting is more inclusive. Except that it isn’t. Polls show that over 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. You’d be hard-pressed to say the same thing about, say, Halloween or Valentine’s Day, yet no one has to vaguely acknowledge a “holiday” in order to avoid giving offense to the fundamentalists who think October 31 is the day children dress up to unwittingly worship Satan.
Ah, say the H.H. Defenders, but there are more holidays being celebrated than Christmas in December! What about Hanukkah? Or Kwanzaa? Huh? HUH?!!
What about them? If you want to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, do it! I would certainly appreciate the sentiment. And, believe it or not, I’ve been wished Happy Hanukkah a number of times in my life, because I grew up in a Southern California neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish. We used to get Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah off from school. It was great – we usually went to Disneyland on Yom Kippur. And I was always jealous of my friends who got to eat their peanut butter sandwiches on Motzah during Passover. (Not sure why, though. Motzah tastes like cardboard.)
We sang Hanukkah songs in my fifth grade chorus. And not just namby-pamby songs about dreidels and such. I still remember one song with a haunting, strange Hebrew melody:
May your days and nights
Be a feast of lights
The eternal flame, may it glow in you
And the Holy One, may He know in you
The song started with talk of “mama lighting the Menorah” and “Papa reading from the Torah.” And I, a good little Mormon boy, sang along cheerfully without even considering a lawsuit! I even had a solo during the song “Eight Bright Candles of Hanukkah.” How cool was that? I’m very grateful that I was raised to appreciate a religious culture different from my own.
And, by the way, Hanukkah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday – essentially the celebration of a military victory. The real holidays – the High Holy Days – take place this month, and nobody makes any ballyhoo over them in the culture at large. Hanukkah’s secular importance has exploded in order to compete with Christmas, and many of my Jewish friends celebrated both, so as not to miss out on Santa’s loot.
Once upon a time, when you said “Merry Christmas” to a Jew, they took it as a message saying “I hope your December 25th is a merry day,” not “Convert to Christianity or burn in hell, heathen!” Actually, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jew – or anyone of any other religion – who would take offense at being wished a Merry Christmas. Except Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they hate everything holidayish.
And then there’s the Kwanzaa people.
Kwanzaa sucks. I have no patience for Kwanzaa. It has no religious significance or history. It was created forty years ago by someone trying to stick it to Christmas – a Bizarro Christmas for Atheists. Why should I have an ounce of respect for a holiday that was created in anger to stir up the kind of P.C. resentment to even the mere mention of Christmas that we see today?
Yet here’s the rub: if you wish me a Happy Kwanzaa, I’ll take it in stride! It will make me smile! Because at least Happy Kwanzaa doesn’t devalue the very existence of Christmas the way “Happy Holidays” does.
Some see my attitude as unnecessarily belligerent. As columnist Anna Quindlen wrote last year:
It is surprising to discover that some believe the enduring power of the story of the child born in Bethlehem to be so shaky that it must be shored up by plastic creches in town squares and middle-school concerts. Apparently, conservative critics are also exercised by the fact that various discount stores have failed to pay homage to the baby in the manger, in their advertisements, their labeling and even their in-store greetings.
She gets it exactly wrong. It’s not that my faith depends on seeing the baby Jesus in Wal-Mart ads. It’s that she’s so skittish about Christian intolerance that she won’t even allow us to mention Christmas by name. Is it too much to ask for some direct reference to the holiday I’m supposed to be happy about? I’m tired of having to pretend that Christmas doesn’t matter as much as it so clearly does. I am disgusted with Christmas TV ads filled with Santa Claus and Christmas trees that end with “Happy Holidays” because mentioning the word “Christmas” might offend Anna Quindlen.
When people say “Happy Holidays,” they’re not being inclusive. They’re running scared. They mean “Merry Christmas,” but they’re afraid of looking intolerant by actually saying it.
So where does that leave me?
Grumpy? Intolerant? Embittered? Not really. I still love Christmas and everything about it. when someone wishes me Happy Holidays, I smile, wish them a Merry Christmas, and hope the politics don’t get in the way.
In the meantime, Happy Respect for the Aged Day.