Five Ways to Declare “Peace on Christmas” this Year

photo credit: Alexander Rabb via photopin cc

photo credit: Alexander Rabb via photopin cc

I once made the assumption that a little boy I tutored would know that we should choose red and green markers to decorate the holiday page in our book about seasons.  During our weekly meetings, we spent time reading together and then worked diligently on our big project – a book about the seasons.  As we finished the last section of our project, we thought of things that reminded us of winter.  Snow. Warm jackets.  Hot cocoa.  And Christmas.

Christmas?  But Ms. Holli, I don’t celebrate Christmas.

You don’t…er…wait.  Oh.  {Insert attempt to graciously recover here.}  Oh, okay.  Why don’t you tell me about your favorite winter holiday?

It is not often that we get to learn about a religious holy day outside our own faith tradition from a second grader.  And I am forever grateful for the bits and pieces I gleaned about Islam from Yusuf that day nearly 10 years ago.  Though I am still a student of my own faith, yet alone the faith traditions outside of Christianity, I am thankful for that simple lesson in humility over a construction paper book about the seasons.

As we enter yet another important holiday season for Christians, it is almost certain that we will again be hearing cries of “The War on Christmas” in certain corners of the media and on a number of bookshelves.   If you are tired of this narrative and believe we can celebrate Christmas in a way that does not have to make our non-Christian neighbors feel like outsiders, then I offer the following thoughts.

Five ways to declare “Peace on Christmas” this holiday season:

1. Know your Greeting Options

Happy Holidays – Contrary to what some leaders of the annual “War on Christmas” rhetoric would have us think, to say “Happy Holidays,” to someone is actually a kind greeting.  It is rather efficient, too, when considering that you cover a range of holidays including Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Day, to name a few.  A few holy days to note that fall outside of this holiday season are the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as well as the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Happy Hanukkah – While we may in good faith want to wish our Jewish friends a “Happy Hanukkah” this season, we may want to note the actual date this year.  In a rare alignment of the calendars, the beginning of Hanukkah will coincide with Thanksgiving this year, which is earlier than some might think.  So, go ahead and offer a “Happy Hanukkah” (or a “Happy Thanksgivukkah” as it may be) to those who celebrate, but be sure to do so in November as you’ll need to add “belated” come December.

Merry Christmas – By all means, wish friends, family and others you know to celebrate the holiday a Merry Christmas.  The “war on Christmas” has never really been a “war” to do away with the holiday, but rather a generally polite plea about the need to recognize that the whole world does not celebrate Christmas.  So, let us celebrate with family, rejoice with our religious communities, and enjoy the reminders of Christmas that are everywhere for nearly two months.

 2.  Ask a question.  Despite the many good options available, sometimes it is just not easy to know how someone would prefer to be greeted this season.  Consider for a moment how you would feel if a clerk at the shopping mall offered you a holiday greeting which was new to you.  If you are a Christian, how would you react if greeted with, “Happy Hanukkah!”  Would you just smile and say, “Thank you,” while feeling confused?  Would you start a conversation?  Would you be offended at the assumption made?  There is not necessarily a right answer here, but perhaps it would do us good to consider what it might be like to not be in the majority all the time.  Instead, if you feel compelled to say something, perhaps we could lead with, “What traditions do you celebrate this season?”  (Bonus points for following up with, “And what is your preferred greeting?”)

3.  Experience something new.  Perhaps a great New Year’s resolution would be to attend a worship service outside your own religious tradition or to join a friend in a non-Christian holiday celebration.  Of course, you will likely want to do some research ahead of time.  Some places of worship are more open (and even encouraging) to visitors outside of their faith tradition than others.  Check out How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook for a handy reference book for learning the quick basics for various faith traditions including attending worship services, basic beliefs, and major holidays.  Among the many gifts to be gained from such an opportunity is the appreciation and knowledge of another religion, as well as the experience of being in the minority – the latter of which may provide a true (and important) shift in perspective for many of us.

4.  Make an effort to be at peace.  Pray, meditate, take a mini-retreat or find some way to cultivate a little inner peace during the hustle and bustle of the season.  When we ourselves are at peace, we may be less likely to find ourselves caught up in the “war” rhetoric.  Perhaps a little morning meditation will help us to better encounter the real meaning and message of Christmas and Christ.  A little less “war,” a lot more peace.

5.  Practice humility.  Remember that despite a majority status, the United States was not actually founded as a Christian nation.  Thankfully, though, Christians are allowed to openly celebrate our holiday traditions – as are Jews, Muslims, and people of all faith traditions or no faith tradition.  Let’s consider the privilege of our predominately Christian culture and respect those who are often made to feel like outsiders in their own country.

Perhaps the words of The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart might give us a little perspective:

No, the truth is I think even most non-Christians don’t particularly care that for about 10% of the year the public sphere is dominated by this one particular religious celebration.  In the same way I imagine most Christians don’t care that a lot of people say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in place of “Merry Christmas” because you don’t always know the religion of the person you’re greeting…[you say] “Merry Christmas”…and they say back to you “Wa alaikum salaam.”[1]

Like the humble Arabic response hypothetically offered here (loosely translated as “Peace also be upon you”[2]), perhaps we all could focus a little more on peace this season and little less on whether or not Jesus would require us to display “Christmas” trees and forbid the saying of Happy Holidays.  I mean, he was sort of busy healing the sick and teaching us to love our neighbor as ourselves – all of our neighbors, by my understanding.

And so, it is on this note that I will wish to my Christian friends, a Merry Christmas this season, and to all of my friends, a season of Peace and Many Blessings.

What would you add to this list?  What best exemplifies hospitality and love of neighbor this season?  How do you hope to be at peace this holiday?

 


[1] Stewart, Jon.  The Daily Show.  “O Holy Fight.” Originally aired December 12, 2012. http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-december-12-2012/o-holy-fight

[2] Matlins, Stuart M. and Arthur J Magida, eds. How to Be a Perfect Stranger, (Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006), Ch. 11, Islam, Special Vocabulary. Kindle.

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Comments

  1. LOVE this, Holli! I’ve never been able to understand why a cheery “Happy Holidays!” has become offensive to some.

    Your story also reminded me of the time when I assigned my 5th grade students a writing prompt about their favorite family tradition. One student raised his hand and told me he didn’t have a favorite family tradition, so I, thinking he was having trouble brainstorming, started asking him questions like, “how do you celebrate Christmas,” “what do you do for Thanksgiving,” and “how do you make your birthday special?” He said they didn’t do anything special for any of those. At that point, I thought he was just trying to be difficult since the class seemed to find the exchange amusing…that is, until he said, “I’m Jehovah’s Witness; we don’t celebrate any holidays.” Whoops! Did a bit of apologizing for that one and worked with his mom to come up with an alternative writing prompt!

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