The concept that there’s a war on Christmas frustrates me. The indignant assertions abound: that it’s ok to say Merry Christmas to all people, and that the December holiday season needs to be branded as the Christmas season, and public and government property should rightly be festooned with Christmas trees and creches. It seems the justifications are that the U.S. is a Christian nation, that Christmas is the foremost December holiday, that Christian tradition takes the mantle over public life. Personally, I can’t understand the celebration of one religious group’s holiday requiring the exclusion of all other traditions. For what purpose? My perspective of what I’m going to call the holiday season (a period that ranges from the third week in November through January 1st) is that it’s a time we challenge ourselves to open our hearts, to reach out, be inclusive, give generously and think of those less fortunate. Goodwill towards all, don’t be a dick, treat others with beautiful kindness. And of course, mindless consumerism. In fact, my almost physical inability to say Merry Christmas has its roots in my many years working retail during the holidays.
My first holiday retail experience was at the GAP. I was seventeen, working in the mall on weekends and evenings after school. We had an all-staff meeting very early the morning of Black Friday (or, The Day After Thanksgiving). We were instructed to be happy, positive and suggest gift ideas to all customers who came through our doors. We were to make each and every customer feel welcome, which meant we were never to say Merry Christmas, lest we alienate someone of a different faith and lose their business. Our manager searched our faces, one by one, to make sure we understood. One person raised their hand asking, “what if the customer says it first?” “Then you may repeat it back, but you are never to initiate it,” our manager replied gravely. Anticipating large volumes of customer traffic, management put a staff member on greeting duty at the front door, to welcome each person on arrival and thank each person upon departure. The fiercest extrovert of the group, I volunteered to greet for the entirety of my shift, eight hours of hellos and goodbyes, eight hours of new faces, new energy filling me. My colleagues thought me insane. Management was grateful, and made it my responsibility for the remainder of the season. “You too!” was as close as I ever came to uttering the exclusionary phrase Merry Christmas.
Over the years, I honed my intention of inclusion even more finely, asking customers, are you celebrating the holidays this year? A tactic devised to cover my bets should someone be Jehovah’s Witness (a faith that does not celebrate mainstream holidays of any form), with the added benefit of sparking conversation about the holidays, a natural segue into my sales pitch. I came to believe very strongly that allowing space for different traditions, different ways and viewpoints during the holiday season creates more opportunity for connection and understanding, in essence, what the holidays mean to me. That I struggle to form the words Merry Christmas and say them aloud is silly, I know, especially since it’s the main winter holiday I celebrate, in its twinkling lights, gathering with friends and family, bingeing on food and sweets and listening to The Nutcracker soundtrack form. I once talked about taking time off for “Xmas” and a supervisor (at an office job) objected, stating I had just X-ed the Christ out of Christmas. “Well, I am an atheist,” I replied. “I’m not.” she said. You see, for some it’s a war.
I’m encouraging people to drop the concept of a war on Christmas in favor of a more nuanced view: inclusion of all during a cold, dark time of year. Not wanting to lead with “Merry Christmas” doesn’t mean the holiday is in danger of losing its importance in society. Assuming that everyone is celebrating the same holiday is an exclusion of those who aren’t, a door closed during a season purportedly about open houses and open hearts. I like “Happy Holidays” because it means I’m covering everything from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Why wouldn’t I want to wish someone happiness for a period of two months rather than one day that may mean nothing more than December 25th on the calendar? It’s not a war. It’s a time of drawing people in, connecting, spreading warmth, hope and cheer. When we are unable to look past our perceived notions of the importance of our own traditions, well, is that really the spirit?
Happy Holidays, to all who are celebrating! My fond wishes for a healthy, peaceful and joyful life to everyone, period!