Sierra Canyon High School

Why I’ll be saying ‘happy holidays’ this holiday season

It’s beginning to look a lot like war on Christmas.

Everywhere you go.

There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one on the Starbucks cups as well.

And we can’t say “Merry Christmas,” don’t you know?

 That’s the tune the so-called “religious right” will be singing this holiday season (oh, and the president). But the fact is, I don’t know. I don’t know why conservatives feel the need to make up threats to their position, when there are plenty of real ones for them to be worried about. I don’t particularly mind the right being blind to their problems, though.

I do mind that any attempt to acknowledge and celebrate American cultural diversity is automatically framed as a threat to a majority culture that, let’s be honest, isn’t going anywhere. It sends a clear message: You don’t deserve to be acknowledged as part of the American experience. You don’t deserve the respect we take for granted.  You’re just a hypersensitive PC liberal for speaking out, because this is the way things have always been, and your complaints don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

On Oct. 13, Trump told the conservative Values Voter Summit, “We are saying Merry Christmas again.” When did “we” ever stop? Christianity has always been the supermajority religion in America, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Yet a very small but vocal segment of America’s most conservative Christians seem convinced that any attempts to showcase other seasonal faiths and traditions, to portray a secular version of the holidays that all can relate to, or even trying to ensure constitutional separation of church and state (not displaying religious images on public land, for example), is an attack not just on their religion, but on American “traditional values.”

They’re not even right about the “traditional” part. Of course, religion has always been a key part of American cultural traditions, but no one religion has ever been the “traditional” American one. The very first phrase of the Constitution (minus the preamble), “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” says the very opposite: by law, no religion is superior to another.

Unless I’m absolutely sure what holiday someone celebrates, I always wish people a “happy holiday. That is not at all because I’m afraid of “offending” people, but simply because that is how I’d  like for others to treat me. I’d like people to acknowledge that America is a religiously pluralistic country, that cultivates and celebrates that diversity. I’d like people to acknowledge that my family’s Jewish faith is just as worthy of recognition and appreciation, that my Judaism means as much to me as their disparate faiths (or lack thereof) mean to them. And I’d like them to acknowledge that not because it’s politically correct or makes me more comfortable, but because it’s the truth.

If someone says Merry Christmas to me, I don’t feel offended. Sometimes I say, “Thank you, but I don’t celebrate Christmas” or “Actually, it’s Hanukkah”. Sometimes I just smile and respond with a happy holidays. Why would I be offended? I’m sure these people don’t have anything against Jews or other religious minorities. They say Merry Christmas automatically, because they assume that any person they meet celebrates it; and they’re probably right most of the time. They have no problem with religious diversity, and I’m sure many of them enjoy learning about other cultures. If these incidents cause any emotion in me, it’s the feeling that we haven’t quite grasped how much of an asset religious pluralism is in society, and how truly American it is. But we’re getting there.

This acknowledgment of the great truth of American religious pluralism is the only thing those who push for happy holidays want. Meanwhile, the religious right insist that any move towards recognizing other traditions, in addition to their own, is an attack on their faith because they feel most comfortable when their version of Christianity is the only religion acknowledged in American culture. They insist that their version of Christianity is the only “traditional” religion in America, ignoring  the historical evidence that that’s patently untrue. Who’s the politically correct snowflake now?

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