It’s hard to believe that how we wish people well at this time of year has become a political litmus test.
Look, if you’re one of those people who is defending the right of that dude on Duck Dynasty to say whatever he wants, no matter how hateful or clueless it is, then I hope you also refrain from condemning people for saying something as benign as “Happy Holidays.”
Because you just can’t do both. Not without being either incredibly unaware, a complete hypocrite, or a devoted bully.
For one thing, “happy holidays” just makes sense, because there’s the New Year in the same season. “Happy holidays” is usefully plural.
Then there’s the reality that not everybody celebrates Christmas, and freedom of religion is another one of those grand American traditions worth being patriotic about (not that anybody in this country can really escape the overwhelming commercial presence of Christmas pretty much from Halloween on).
One of my Muslim students wished me a “happy holiday” as she said goodbye on the last day of class and I asked her if there were any Muslim holidays during the break. “No, just ordinary days for us,” she said, with a smile. I can’t help thinking that some of my otherwise quite lovely friends who get churlish about this would chill if they could simply meet people like this student in their daily lives.
Observant Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. Others sometimes do, much as atheists and agnostics do. This latter group includes my parents, who indulged us with Santa Claus and a tree, but no religious content.
Other folks – Pagans and Wiccans, especially — celebrate the winter solstice instead, which Christians borrowed for their own uses a long time ago.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Christians, don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. I wondered if the kids would feel deprived, but in-laws of mine had a tradition of going out on Black Friday and getting presents when they were cheap. The kids then got to play with everything right away, and no wrapping was required. They didn’t seem too unhappy with that deal.
Greek and Russian Orthodox Christians often celebrate Christmas according to a different calendar, usually Jan. 7.
Until recent generations, my husband tells me, Puerto Ricans’ largest celebration was originally El Dia de los tres reyes magos, or Three Kings Day, which falls on the twelfth day of Christmas, or January 6, known to Episcopalians like me as Epiphany. On the eve of that, children leave a box filled with grass for the wise men’s camels under the bed and wake to presents left there in its place.
Since my husband is Puerto Rican, my son grew up with a little bit of that tradition, although in our house (and on the island, too, these days) Three Kings Day is not a bigger deal than Christmas. It usually falls on an ordinary school day, so it’s not exactly easy to make a big production out of it. And getting our hands on grass this time of year isn’t very easy, either. Those poor camels usually have to make do with Christmas tree trimmings from us.
We never actually hewed to the Santa Claus tradition in our home, though it was inescapable in the culture. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable lying to my kid even about Santa Claus, though I didn’t go out of my way to demolish any belief that he might develop, either – and, in fact, at one point after he figured it out, he actually requested that we pretend Santa was real because that was way more fun.
Generally, however, we followed my husband’s custom and labeled my son’s presents as coming from the baby Jesus (on Christmas) or the Three Kings (on Three Kings Day) rather than from Santa Claus. We do have the tree, though, and it’s always real. Alejandro and I love the smell, and I’m making up for all those years of putting the fake tree together down in Florida. We also live in Christmas tree farm country, so it’s another way of supporting local farmers.
So I’ll wish you a happy… whatever it is you celebrate.
Personally, I’m going to celebrate the holidays and my semester break by taking a break from this blog and trying to catch up on other things, including lots and lots of reading, and a long visit with the folks. I’ll pop in here and there with tidbits, but there will be no long posts here until February.
What are your family’s unique holiday traditions? Feel free to share.