Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's That Time of Year

We interrupt your anticipation of reading all about my trip to Cancun to rehash that debate that happens every year. You know the one I'm talking about: the one where Christians get pissed off if you don't wish them a "Merry Christmas" and where atheists and others get pissed off if you do.

In 2005, I wrote this blog post about the whole thing, and my opinion really hasn't changed. I read this article on MSN this morning and feel the need to repeat a few things.

The author, P.J. Orvetti, writes:

About 76 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian, down from 86 percent two decades ago. The nation has about 3.1 million Jews, 530,000 Muslims, and 400,000 Buddhists. Anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of Americans say they
practice no particular religion, with about 1.2 million calling themselves

For most of the year, none of this is a big deal. We go along and get along. But as December rolls around, things get as sticky as a popcorn ball.

Yep. Pretty much. That's largely because holidays of various faiths and non-faiths don't really run together in such an in-your-face way as the winter holidays do. I particularly like the next paragraph:

The issue is that in today’s America, there are really two Christmases. The first is the second most holy festival on the Christian calendar; the second is
a largely secular holiday that is all about shopping or family, depending who
you ask. One is about a baby in a manger; the other features an aerodynamic
reindeer with a fluorescent proboscis.

Yep. Pretty much. This is also why I can spend Christmas Eve with Jack and his family even though my celebration of the holiday that is important to me would have been celebrated and done by then. This is why I can take my fond memories of Christmas as a Catholic and still love what it meant to me then, and respect what it doesn't mean to me now. Truth be told, it never really was about celebrating the birth of Christ. I think quite a lot was lacking from my early Catholic education (I take this as a benefit; I don't have the bitterness that many former Catholics have towards the faith). But, I digress.

The real reason this article struck me was at the very end. The author echoed the sentiments that I wrote five years ago:

I do not think of myself as a “Christian” in a traditional sense, but I was raised in the Christian tradition and have a great love for it, so perhaps I
cannot fully appreciate how a member of another faith might take offense at a
“Merry Christmas.”

But I’m happy to be wished a merry or happy or jolly anything. With so much animosity all year round, just take the cheerful greeting for what it’s intended to be -- a bit of good spirit at the end of a long year. [Bolding added by me for emphasis.]

And for good measure, I will quote my own words from that blog post all those
years ago:

I'll put this to you; instead of greeting me or wishing me happiness with something that means something to me, why not wish me happiness with a blessing that means something to you? I want a Jew to wish me a Happy Hanukkah. I want a Christian to wish me a Merry Christmas. I want to hear Happy Kwanzaa from my African-descended friends. And by gum, if a coven
wants to run around screaming Happy Yule, I want them to!

The point of this and any holiday blessing, you see, is to take something that is important, loving, meaningful, and everything else that it is to you and share it with me. This is a part of you, something that has meaning in your life. What a wonderful thing it is to take a piece of that and give it to another person, wishing nothing in return but responding in kind. How much of that other person do you learn by one blessing that leaves their lips and is directed towards you? This is the
embodiment of perfect love and perfect trust; no matter what words you use, your
holiday greeting says "This time of year is important to me, I hope you are
enjoying it too." This time of year is not about others accepting what you
believe, it is about connecting with people.

And while I'm at it, if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas and you have no idea how important such a blessing is to them: Be gracious! Who cares if it means nothing to you? Why can't you just accept the blessing for what it is and say 'thank you?' Does that hurt? Instead of saying 'I want to be greeted this way' accept that someone thought enough about you to greet you at all, and they thought enough about you to give a part of them to you. Oh, how truly blessed you are to receive such a wonderful thing. Gratitude, friends, is what you give in return, and perhaps a heartfelt wish from you to them.

Still with me?

It's ok to remember what this season means to you, if it means anything at all. It's ok to wish happiness upon strangers and family and friends too. And it's ok to do so even if they don't share your beliefs. And if someone wishes you a happy whatever holiday you don't celebrate, please just say "thank you" if you don't want to return the greeting in kind. We're all on the same planet, breathing the same air, and trying to go about our days on the smoothest path possible. Don't be a part of the problem. It's not worth it. What is worth it is to share a little kindness, no matter the sentiment, with others.

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