Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why you might hear me say "Happy Holidays"

I am all about the Christ in Christmas. Nativity scenes, stories, songs, the family Nativity play, the church service. I believe Christ is the son of God and in his love for us chose to visit our world by experiencing life as we live it, starting as an infant in the most humble circumstances. Conceived before his mother's marriage,  carried in what we must assume was some shame, born in a stable and laid in a bed of straw. Then visited by rich and poor alike, recognized however momentarily as the promised Messiah, heralded by angels and a star in the sky. This is Christmas to me, and it moves me beyond description.

If I already know you have feelings about Christmas similar to mine, I will sure as shooting tell you, "Merry Christmas." Absolutely.

Otherwise, I find "Happy Holidays" to be a beautiful wish to give a friend, and I'll say that to you, instead. Here's why.

When I first started working in my university job seven years ago, I was so excited for Christmas. Well, that's not different from any other year. Anyway, as I left the office before we closed for the holiday, I bid a friend and co-worker farewell with my traditional "Merry Christmas" greeting. Gently she put her hand on my arm, and with a smile, said, "I'm Jewish."

Now, I know the bare bones of Jewish history and I'm also pretty well aware that in the culture I live in, even being a non-mainstream Christian puts me in a position of privilege. And although I never meant to exclude or insult anyone by sharing my Christmas cheer, I did give a greeting that emphasized difference rather than similarity, a vision that was not considerate and probably not appropriate for the workplace, at least with a colleague I did not yet know well. I felt like a jerk.

I don't really like feeling like a jerk. It's not fun. So sometimes now I don't use the holiday season as a chance to tell people I'm a Christian. While I am far from ashamed of my faith, sometimes that's not the way to build friendships and show respect for others.

So, Happy Holidays to you all. I hope they shine, and I hope they offer you closeness with friends old and new, friends who share your faith and friends who differ. I think Jesus would approve.


Vero said...

Happy Holidays right back at you, Ana! I hope you and your family have a Joyous Christmas.

nisa said...

Interesting. If somebody said "Happy Hanukkah" to me, I would like it. I don't view Merry Christmas as pushing my opinion on anyone.

Ana Shaw said...

I think that's where the power/privilege question comes in. It's going to feel a lot different to a member of the majority religious group having an alternative greeting given to them, than it is for a minority religious group with thousands of years of history of being oppressed, driven and persecuted. As Mormons we have a little bit of that, and it's real and serious, but it's not quite the same (especially since we celebrate Christmas in pretty much the same way as most other Christians). In my opinion it should serve to make us more sympathetic.

nisa said...

Hmmm...see, I think it is way more weird to be a Mormon. I think people have a lot more respect for a yarmulke or tallit than our garments. Of course, when I was a teenager I used to sneak off to the conservative synagogue whenever I could because I wanted to be Jewish. And we don't really get to celebrate Christmas all that much at all. We don't have midnight mass or any beautiful candlelight service or even advent. *Grumble, Grumble, Grumble*