The Life and Times of Florence Knitingale

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Annual Holiday Rant

It's starting already. And because it's starting, so is the conflict that the holiday season has come to include around these parts. It is early days, but I am already shaking my head in dismay.

Remember last year, when I mentioned all the kafuffle about the decorated trees at the airport and people thought there should be a menorah and finally the trees were taken down? Now the airport is putting up this year's holiday display that they feel will not offend anyone: a bunch of bare birch branches with lights, the whole made as eco-friendly as possible and supposedly "representative of winter in the Northwest". Bearing in mind, of course, that Washington is nicknamed "The Evergreen State", entirely because of the abundance of those very trees that are now being banished from the airport for being exclusionary.

Meanwhile, there is a group of people now who every year complain bitterly of what they perceive as "the theft of Christmas", partly based on incidents like the airport one, but also on things like store clerks saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas". Some of them refuse to shop in stores that don't offer the latter greeting.

People, I am weary and confused. And some of you may disagree with my thinking and that's okay--I'm fine with people who have different opinions, a concept on which this country was founded. Clearly, I don't always have a ton of company in that viewpoint--but full speed ahead, anyway. Here's what I think:

First, I believe that Christmas, for good or for bad, has come to have two faces in this country--it wouldn't actually be too extreme to say it has become two different holidays. There is the holy holiday celebrated by Christian-based faiths, wherein December 25 is chosen as the day to recognize the coming of a Savior, the gift to humanity of the Son of God. There is also the retail holiday, wherein December 25 is chosen as the day to celebrate rampant consumerism and spending.

For most things, it's easy to see what goese with which version: Manger? Holy holiday. Santa Claus? Retail holiday. "Silent Night"? Religious. "Deck the Halls?" Retail (or at least secular). Christmas tree? Hmmm. Not so simple. It's come to be considered kind of both although, if we're going to be completely honest with ourselves, it's actually a pagan symbol that has nothing to do with either. Which is one reason I'm so tired of the airport war over evergreen trees.

I think I can understand the frustration of some devoutly religious folks who feel that their holy day has been co-opted into something cheap and shiny and consumer-driven. But I don't understand how this situation is improved if the chirpy 20-something making extra money as cashier during the holidays is required by her boss to say "merry Christmas" instead of "happy holidays". Likewise, I don't understand why setting aside a 2-foot square section of the store for menorahs and dreidels and stars of David are somehow showing any sort of respect for the Jewish faith, particularly given that our society has insisted on making Hanukah into "the Jewish Christmas", which it most assuredly is not. Most people who pat themselves on the back for this kind of "inclusiveness" could not actually tell you the story about the miracle of the oil in the temple with any clarity; neither could they tell you about Rosh Hoshana or Yom Kippur because there is a difference between learning about and respecting a culture on the one hand, and giving it lip service to be politically correct on the other.

You can tell me I'm an idiot if you like, but here's what I believe: I believe that celebrations of faith are private things--not shameful and to be hidden, but holy and reverent and away from the clanging and sparkling and spending that the holidays have come to be. I believe that cheapening the faiths of non-Christian groups by tossing around symbols with no real understanding does nothing to honor them or include them. I believe that Jesus spoke a great deal about loving one another, not judging, and embracing the brother and sisterhood of all human beings. I believe that He would be dismayed at the thought of people honoring His birthday with petty squabbles over the correct form of greeting in a department store. I believe that there is way more depth and beauty of faith in this country than Christian and Jewish.

One year, I was fortunate to attend an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. There were numerous faiths represented, and each group was allowed to have the stage for a set number of minutes to share what they felt was important. We had Wiccans, Pagans, Seikhs, Muslims, and many, many more. And there was a pivotal moment in that service for me, when the Whirling Dervishes were on the stage (how many people know that the Whirling Dervishes represent a deeply holy ritual, a form of prayer and devotion?) and I looked around the room at the hundreds of people and realized in a single, breathtaking epiphany: everyone there, despite skin color and despite the presence or absence of turban or veil and no matter what method they personally used, was trying to do the very same thing. We were all trying to be closer to God. Nothing less, nothing more.

I'll buy that as "inclusiveness"--not the shabby display of plastic menorahs tucked in behind the thousands of santas and reindeer and fake trees.

I'm not sure I can bring this all to a logical and focussed point, other than this: I think we need to be more gentle with each other. I think we need to recognize that no one can take away from us those beliefs that are deeply held and that no faith is either honored or undermined by a blow-up Santa or a scripted, rote greeting at Macy's.

I think we're all here to help each other get home. Whatever you believe home to be. I think we'd do well to all start with that.


  • At 8:06 AM, Blogger Tola said…

    this is exactly why i prefer celebrating Thanksgiving rather than Christmas, because its all about family and togetherness, not retail consumerism. but i also sing in an interfaith choir that performs in December, and also performs "Messiah" in spring.

  • At 8:58 AM, Blogger ~Tonia~ said…

    Very well said. It is so true. No matter what religion/faith we are all about the same thing in the end.

    I have never been to an interfaith celebration. It sounds very neat. That would be something I should take our son to. Expose him to more than our small comunity. Not sure where I would have to go to find one though.

  • At 9:40 AM, Blogger yakiduk said…

    Well said!

  • At 10:45 AM, Blogger Kitty Mommy said…

    Nicely put.

  • At 11:04 AM, Blogger ambermoggie said…

    I'm with you Ms K. Here in UK they are banning Christmas events as not fair on the other religions. As a pagan I believe we all have our own concept of faith that we believe on and as such we should all celebrate the best way for us. But, England always celebrated Christmas and as a tradition I believe we still should. We shouldn't apologise for doing so but neither should we exclude other faiths celebrating as they choose.
    amber off the soapbox:))

  • At 12:22 PM, Blogger Marianne said…

    ...yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.....

  • At 12:28 PM, Blogger Lynn said…

    Good rant.

    Those of us who want to, do a "Secret Santa" at work every year. One year, one of the participants was newly-hired and Jewish. He was a not-so-Secret-Santa because he wrapped all his gifts in blue and white paper, and we all loved him for it. And another of our coworkers is Muslim and loves to play Secret Santa, because for her it's not about the doctrine, it's about the love.

    I love both Christmases, the religious one and the mundane one. [I have a little problem with Thanksgiving, however, and I recognize that it's *my* problem.]

    I have been known, when greeted with "happy holidays", to ask the greeter very quietly, "do you celebrate Christmas?" and if she says "yes", say very quietly, "then Merry Christmas to you" or "have a blessed and peaceful Hanukkah" with eye contact, so they know I'm not just being a PC twit.

    Any Christian who does not have at least some knowledge of the basic Jewish holidays, is not well-grounded in doctrine, or in gratitude. And any Christian who denigrates another Christian's faith needs to be beaten severely with a WWJD bracelet.

    My Muslim sister [not my birth-sister, but my found-sister] and her family celebrate all their own traditions and holidays; they also celebrate Christmas, with a deep appreciation and reverence for its meaning.

  • At 12:43 PM, Blogger Karen said…

    Amen, sister! Oh, and by the way..Happy Chrismakwanzakuh!

  • At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Gail said…

    Please consider sending this as a letter to the editor of all local newspapers. You've raised excellent points, and your thoughtfulness elevates the discussion. I visit your blog for entertainment, but today found something even better. Thank you.

  • At 2:58 PM, Anonymous MonicaPDX said…

    Hon, you done outdid yourself. Hear, hear and Slainte!

  • At 3:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well said, Ms. K!

    The interfaith Thanksgiving service sounds like a wonderful experience.

  • At 7:28 PM, Anonymous marti said…

    amen. i don't think that i have ever read something that so concisely sums up the whole issue quite so nicely.

  • At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Jill said…

    As always, you've spoken eloquently on what can be a touchy subject. I agree with Gail, in that you should send this off to local (or not so local) newspapers.

  • At 4:55 PM, Blogger Misty The Kneedler said…

    Oh, thank you!

  • At 12:39 AM, Blogger Angela Cox said…

    First we have fireworks to celebrate the saving of Parliament from terrorism , then this weekend fireworks for Diwali .I'm praying all the other faiths don't start . I think we should just call it "Midwinter" or something and put up Holly , miseltoe etc. As a Christian I can celebrate at home and any other religion is welcome to do so . I don't think any British citizen would argue with celebrating the light coming back in Pagan or not. According to a documentary here flying Reindeers have a lot to do with Sami people getting stoned out of their heads ..tell the kiddies that one . I don't think any store should set rules about how you greet shoppers . As for mid-winter make it a food feast with lots of lights but no b***d* fireworks.I used to love them as a child when they fizzed a bit and then went out now they wake the neighbourhood and sound like in-coming missiles.


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