A long time ago, I heard or read the following story:
A man and a woman, strangers to each other, approached a door. The man, reaching it first, opened the door and held it for the woman to enter. She took offense at his apparent paternalism, and said, “You don’t have to hold the door for me just because I’m a lady!”
The man tipped his hat to her, and replied, “I didn’t hold it for you because you are a lady. I did it because I am a gentleman.”
While I can’t recall the source of this story, its lesson has stayed with me over the years.
Why do I bring this up now? Because it’s Christmas time.
These days, that means that since Halloween, people started whining on social media and elsewhere about people using the greeting “Happy Holidays” in place of “Merry Christmas.”
These people choose to take offense, often belligerantly, that anyone would use the less specific “Happy Holidays”. It used to be a perfectly acceptable alternative to “Merry Christmas”, among many other phrases that all pretty much say the same thing. They see it as surrendering to “political correctness,” and demand that everyone join them in “defying” those who would somehow dilute the specific message of their single preferred phrase.
They learned this from conservative pundits who invented the so called “War on Christmas” several years ago, and who rattle their candycane striped sabers each year, desperately hoping to remain relevant.
I could go into the history of Christmas, it’s pantheological traditions, the reasons our revered American Puritans outlawed it for years in this country, and more. But I won’t.
For me, it’s really very simple.
If I wish someone Happy Holidays, it’s often because I’m not sure whether they specifically celebrate Christmas or not. I see it not as “political correctness,” but as courtesy.
I aspire to be a gentleman, to be pleasant to all, to give offense to none, if possible. My choice isn’t to toe any idealogical line, it’s to make people around me comfortable, perhaps even happy! (Notice, I “aspire.” I think this essay alone proves I often fall short of that mark.)
I wish people Merry Christmas if I know, or can safely assume that they celebrate Christmas. If I know they’re of a non-Christian faith, I wish them Happy Holidays. If I’m not sure, I wing it. Most often, I say whichever comes to my lips first—sometimes it’s appropriate, occasionally it’s not.
This does make a difference here in our community. We know many couples of mixed background, Jewish and Christian. Some households observe the Jewish holidays, some the Christian, usually they observe both. A vaguer holiday greeting doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, because we rarely encounter anyone so “politically correct” to their favored faction that they choose to take offense where none is ever intended.
Further, our family celebrates a variety of small holidays within the larger Christmas season, which we start the day after Thanksgiving, and will observe until Twelfth Night on January 6th. “Happy Holidays” better encompasses the long list of seasonal observances we enjoy at this time of year (see Feeling Holidaisical: Christmas Comes to the Zeiger Homestead).
The bottom line: Both phrases ought to be a well wishing, a blessing, not a political or idealogical declaration. It should be about the receiver of the greeting, not the sender. Quite frankly, anyone who chooses to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” as a defiant statement ought to be ashamed of themselves.
So, continually, from now until next year, we wish one and all both a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!