Some Words on “Happy Holidays” and Political Correctness

It’s that time of year again, you guys, when the Christmas lights go up, children carol in the streets, and Bill O’Reilly bitches about the “War on Christmas”. According to the acclaimed FOX News, “the right to celebrate Christmas is under attack“. Among plenty of other things, like the unspeakable atrocity that is Jewish people celebrating Hanukkah and the general aversion to putting Christmas trees in public schools, (note: the Holiday Tree,) this “War on Christmas” appears to have a lot to do with the fact that you’re supposed to say “Happy Holidays” these days instead of “Merry Christmas”.

On a slightly more sane battleground, the debate over “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” is one largely grounded in political correctness (and maybe some religious dogma). Basically, the argument is: Why should we go out of our way to tiptoe around other people? We’ve always said “Merry Christmas”, and if anyone’s offended/gets uncomfortable, that’s their problem.

Now, I know that it’s the holidays and this is a jolly season and everyone needs to just lighten up already, but I find this line of thought to be extremely problematic for several reasons. First, the general timeframe where Christmas is celebrated is also the timeframe where other cultures also observe their own holidays–Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the recently established secular Human Light, to name a few. Just because a majority of Americans celebrate Christmas doesn’t make these other holidays unimportant–and, as I would always inform those who despair at the war on Christianity in America, freedom of religion was meant to protect the minority, not the majority. Because the holiday season encompasses so many different holidays from so many different cultures, using the inclusive “Happy Holidays” and framing the holiday season in terms of all holidays celebrated during that time isn’t bullshit political correctness. It’s a matter of common decency and acknowledging that different people celebrate different holidays, all of which deserve to be respected.

The second reason why I find this line of thought so problematic is that it’s honestly not that hard to greet people with “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”. Certainly, if you know someone celebrates Christmas, feel free to continue using the latter. But when you’re not sure about that? It’s really not that hard to add one more phrase to your general vocabulary and use it out of courtesy to others. Saying “Happy Holidays” does not mean you have to refer to the tree in your living room as a “holiday tree”. It does not mean you have to put a menorah next to your stockings or stop indulging Santa to your kids. It just means that you acknowledge the breadth of cultures celebrated around the holiday season and that you’re choosing to be inclusive. As Paul Raushenbush wrote in The Huffington Post,

If you don’t know the spiritual tradition of a co-worker, friend, or stranger in the elevator but wish to offer them a ‘Season’s greeting’ — a simple ‘Happy Holiday’ is not at all an insult or a denigration of Christmas, or any other tradition. It is an appropriate and inclusive salutation that recognizes that there are many ways that people are observing the season and you don’t know enough to be specific.

That is not too much to ask by any stretch of the imagination.

The third reason why this line of thought is problematic is because deciding to dismiss someone else’s concerns out of deference to “how we’ve always done things” is the root cause of all oppression. I’m giving Hank Green the floor to explain this:

In case you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here’s the most important part of the video:

Traditions are important, but they’re only relevant as long as they uphold the dignity of all people. This assumption that Christmas is the default winter holiday may seem harmless on paper, but put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If Christmas is considered the norm, and you celebrate Hanukkah, you’re basically being told by the mainstream that your holiday isn’t as important. Nailing up “Merry Christmas” when you’re vaguely aware that other holidays do exist is a subtle invalidation of those holidays, as well as the right of those cultures to celebrate those holidays without fear of being looked down upon. In that same vein, choosing not to adopt “Happy Holidays” with strangers because “Merry Christmas” is easier may not be inherently malicious, but it does contribute to a culture of exclusion that, in the past, people have been all too happy ignoring and upholding. Just because you mean well does not mean your actions do not result in hurt. Intentions don’t matter as much as consequences.

Why is this becoming an argument now? Why are people so offended now when they weren’t before? Are they…looking for things to be offended by? I don’t think so. Maybe it’s that people have always been offended, but for the first time, thanks to social media and globalization, they finally have a forum where they can express their grievances–and people will listen. That’s an indication that we’re finally making progress, by the way. “This was never a problem before” is evidence, in my eyes, that it has been a problem before, just that you didn’t have to listen. Well, guess what? Now you do. Christmas-centrism is rightly over. It’s not about political correctness, it’s about affording different people the acknowledgement and consideration they deserve. It’s time for us to recognize who the holiday season is really for: everyone

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