Wednesday, December 12, 2012

So, I don't know

The war on Christmas thing. I tend to see it mostly as something ginned up to give people something to talk about, or else a series of very isolated incidents where someone with a burr up their tailpipe deciding to be Ebeneezer Grinch.

I don't know what it's like elsewhere in the country, but here Christmas is very much in evidence. Granted, we're one of the grommets on the Bible Belt (not QUITE the buckle, but close). But you see lots of public displays of things, the occasional nativity scene, people wish one another Merry Christmas.

Several of my students wished me a Merry Christmas after the exam today. Then again, they've seen me wearing a cross pendant, so they're probably aware I'm Christian and would take no offense to the sentiment (and in fact, wished them one as well).

I don't know. I admit I think sometimes both sides are a little wrong on this. With insisting on "Merry Christmas," for example: I tend to think that shopkeepers and what not should be allowed to say what they wish in the form of a greeting. If someone chooses to wish me a Merry Christmas, great. But if they want to play it a little safer (though in this part of the country, as I said, I think there's even a higher percentage of at-least-nominal Christians than elsewhere) and say "Happy Holidays," I'm not going to snarl at them or tell them to tell me Merry Christmas instead. Heck, if someone assumes I'm Jewish and wishes me a Happy Chanukah, I'll smile and nod and say, "Same to you." Because they're all well-wishes, offered freely and out of the freedom of the giver.

I would object to being told, for example, by my administration: "You are only to wish Happy Holidays to others on campus. No mention of Christmas is to be made." Because that's zero tolerance ridiculousness. I have similar issues with trying to whitewash things, to rename Christmas as "winter holiday" or change the names of things that have long been associated with Christmas. And okay: if the majority in a town want to rename the Christmas tree the Holiday tree, fine, okay. I will still think of it as a Christmas tree. But a few people telling the majority that they must change, because those few are hurt and offended over it not being "more inclusive," ugh. Just, ugh. We need to grow up a little about some of the "I am offended because...." stuff. Not everyone is going to be included in everything. That's just how it is. If you have different traditions, by all means celebrate them. But don't try to make people change their traditions. 

If I know someone isn't Christian, I'll wish them a happy whatever-they-celebrate, or wish them a Happy New Year. I'm smart enough and tactful enough to consider someone's background. If I really don't know, and I suspect they're someone who might object to a Merry Christmas, I'll say Happy Holidays to them. (Though then again: I used to have a co-worker who was Hindi, and one day when I slipped and wished her a Merry Christmas, she just smiled and said that while she celebrated Diwali, she was happy with my good wishes for her.)

In some cases, people are way too sensitive. I do remember once someone taking me to task for wishing them a Merry Christmas. "I celebrate Winter Solstice," she sniffed. "It's more inclusive."

Really? If someone wished me a Happy Solstice I'd probably look at them in puzzlement for a few minutes. I don't celebrate it; I don't know very many who do. Though I get the idea: it doesn't really have a religious link (though I think some of the people who consider themselves Pagan celebrate it) and it does refer to the amount of sunlight starting to get longer again. But I wouldn't say it was "more inclusive." And I don't like being sniffed at when I offer good wishes to someone.

I didn't really have contact with that person the next year. I suppose if I had seen her again I would have remembered to wish her a happy Solstice but I have to admit the memory of that take-down she visited on me would make it stick in my throat a bit.

Is it no longer possible for people to smile, say "thank you" and move on without feeling the need to CORRECT everyone? As I said earlier, if someone wished me a happy Chanukah I'd smile and nod and take it to mean they wished me well, and were doing so in their own way.

But likewise, I think insisting that individuals conform - in anyway - is problematic. (Again, not so very many years ago: I went to school with a number of kids who were Jewish. Around the winter holidays we'd talk in class about our family traditions, and they'd talk about what they did for Chanukah. And I don't think there was anything that got weird or uncomfortable about it. Of course, the fact that I belonged to the majority religion could be coloring my perception, you might argue....but I don't remember anyone coming into the public-school classroom and insisting we shut down discussion of THOSE holidays this minute.....

I guess part of what it is is that it seems to me people have developed more of a tendency to take offense in recent years. If I taught at, say, Brandeis, I wouldn't insist that they made allowances for Christian holidays for me; I wouldn't expect to be able to get a cheeseburger at the cafeteria. I'd just deal with it, and if something about it became too unbearable, I'd go elsewhere.

(I will quickly note that none of the practices mentioned violates anyone's human rights. There's a difference there.)

I do think a lot of what's presented as the War on Christmas is probably the actions of a few power-mad bureaucratic types or people who have some kind of sourpuss vendetta against stuff - the person who reports a couple of Christian kids for exchanging Christmas cards with a nativity scene on it in the halls in school, the person who fights to disallow a business from displaying a "Christ is Born!" banner. I don't think there's anything organized out there; it seems more it really is some sourpusses.

And again, it's the offense thing. I'm not sure what specifically it is about Christmas that offends the few people who take offense to it. I don't know if it's that they get hurt because they're excluded (then, I would argue, we should also ban Valentine's Day, so people who are unattached or who just broke up don't feel bad). I don't know if it's some kind of a control thing. I don't know if it's some kind of I Know Better Than You Do thing, or if it's some kind of weird neo-Puritanism.

(My understanding about the Puritans is that part of their ban on Christmas was related to the fact that they saw it as a "Papist" holiday, in other words, because Catholics were for it, they had to be agin' it.)

I really don't know. Because I so don't get hating Christmas, though occasionally you run into people who profess to do so.

And I don't really have a problem with people choosing not to celebrate, or even "hating" it. What I have a problem with is their trying to suck the enjoyment out of it for everyone else - I know people who go on long eye-rolling tirades about the "waste" of it all. Or talk superiorly about how they 'don't give gifts any more' in their family (Well, hoo-rah and a tiger for you! I personally LIKE getting gifts myself, and I like GIVING 'em, and if that makes me less "evolved" than you, then so be it.). Again: do as you will, but don't tell me you're better than I am because you do differently. And for the sake of the day and he whose birth we commemorate (even if you don't believe in him), don't try to ruin people's innocent enjoyment of the good things about it.

And by the same terms: if you choose to celebrate Solstice instead, and I know it, I will wish you a happy Solstice. Or a Happy New Year. Or a good Yule. Or whatever. I won't insist that you accept my wishes of Christmas for you as long as you allow me to wish them to others I know who believe similarly to me.

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