It doesn’t seem that long ago that the “Cleaver home” celebrated Christmas without over thinking the political ramifications of the day.
Today New York and London (among other cities in both countries) are decked out for the holidays. Who hasn’t heard of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree or London’s Oxford Street lights to say nothing of the famous storefront windows all aglow.
In corporate America, everything is “happy holidays”. Ads refer to “holiday shopping”, end-of-year office gathering are “holiday parties” and kids’ school concerts this time of year are “holiday concerts”..
An annual survey that came out last week revealed just how conflicted Americans are on whether it’s better to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” this time of year. Half of America prefers one term and half the other. However, in a business or public setting, nearly two-thirds of those under 30 feel it’s better to wish someone the more generic Happy Holidays. It’s about trying to be polite in an increasingly diverse society.
I am sure you see this trend just by looking at the greeting cards you have received this year and how people are signing off their emails. The majority wish you something along the lines of: happy holidays, peace, warm wishes for the New Year, and of course, “seasons greetings”. They offer everything jolly and merry this time of year, except a Merry Christmas.
Christmas is prominently still visible in the western world. There are still plenty of Santas and pine trees for sale, and a drive around the neighborhood, especially in parts of America outside of the major cities, and you’ll see people go all out with the Christmas lights and decorations outside their homes. But even people who are clearly celebrating Christmas in their homes tend to be conflicted about what to say in the workplace or at school. No one wants to offend anyone or make assumptions about people’s religious beliefs.
In America, the term “Christmas” still has a strongly religious connotation to it (despite what years of Santa and the “buy” mentality have done to the spirit of the day). Now wishing people a “Merry Christmas” almost has a political tone to it.
What’s striking to anyone who has spent time in the UK is that everyone says Merry (or Happy) Christmas. I am sure that for some the saying in Britain has lost its religious meaning, but people say it regardless of whether or not they celebrate Christmas, and businesses feel no remorse whatsoever at openly calling things “Christmas sales” or “Christmas parties”.
But by and large, in two diverse societies with similar roots here in the West, Americans have opted to try to find neutral sounding holiday greetings, while Brits have chosen to make Christmas as open to everyone as possible.
I think the Brits have this one right. I’d rather be able to wish people a Merry Christmas this week without having to worry if they’ll be offended. I’d also rather have people wish me Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali (Hindu celebration) or any celebrations when those holidays come around. Let’s call each holiday what it is instead of trying to lump everyone’s ritual together. If we need a generic holiday, we’ve already got the New Year, which touches all people and cultures.