By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on December 12, 2018.
Which greeting do you think is more inclusive? “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?
In recent years, often in retail or educational environments, people have been told they have to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” to make sure they “don’t offend anyone” – that it acknowledges other religious holy days or celebrations occurring around the same time. Instead of making things better, this has exacerbated division between Canadians. Here’s why:
It may surprise you, but “Merry Christmas” is actually more inclusive, if we contemplate what inclusion truly means. Where religion is concerned it means increasing awareness of all holy days and celebrations happening in our communities and recognizing them, too.
According to Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey in 2011, just over 67 per cent of Canadians identify as Christian, and 23.9 per cent (almost one quarter) have no religious affiliation (atheist, agnostic, humanist, etc.) – up 16.5 per cent from 2001. See https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/91-003-x/2014001/section03/33-eng.htm. That means only nine per cent of our population identify as Muslim (3.21 per cent), Hindu (1.52 per cent), Sikh (1.38 per cent), Buddhist (1.12 per cent), Jewish (one per cent). Aboriginal spirituality makes up 0.2 per cent and other religions (Bah‡’i, Wicca, etc.) make up 0.4 per cent. Those nine per cent are “people in your neighbourhood” (some will get the Sesame Street reference here) and they celebrate Eid, Diwali, Awakening Day, Yom Kippur, Sun Dance, the Ascension of Bah‡’u’ll‡h, and other holy days.
I’m not suggesting that we should be saying “Merry Christmas” because 67 per cent is a majority, that the majority rules and should get what they want. I’m saying it’s more inclusive. Think “and.” Telling people they can’t use greetings that have been around forever only divides us and we don’t need more of that in Canada. Christians are feeling like they’re losing their rights, and all because someone thought it would be “nicer” to say “Happy Holidays.” How Canadian. It was a “nice” idea butÉ
Immigrants and people of colour (because they’re lumped into “the other” category even if they were born and raised in Canada, and may or may not be Christian themselves) are being blamed for “taking away” Christians’ rights – like the right to say “Merry Christmas.” There has been an increase in xenophobia (fear or hatred of others) in Canada and “Happy Holidays” is part of the problem.
Newcomers to Canada are very aware that this is a predominantly Christian country and many of them are Christian, too. Most non-Christians, new or Canadian-born, do not expect Christians in Canada to change the way they do things on their behalf, but it is nice if we can make certain accommodations like acknowledging their celebrations or even joining in with them. I’ve attended Seder dinners and Diwali celebrations and have learned a lot. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.
And, in Canada people celebrate Christmas even if they’re not Christians, right? I mean, if we’re really honest, Christmas in Canada has become an extravaganza celebrated by almost everyone, which doesn’t sit well with some Christians, just so you know. I have atheists in my family who cook Christmas dinners and exchange Christmas gifts with me. I also have Muslim friends who put up Christmas trees and send me Christmas cards. They’ll also send me an “Eid Mubarak” text when they’re celebrating Eid. That’s inclusion.
And, by the way, “Happy Holidays” is a Christmas greeting seen on vintage Hallmark Christmas cards from over 100 years ago. If you want to be more inclusive, acknowledge a Jewish friend during Hanukkah by saying “Happy Hanukkah” or better yet, “Chag Chanukah Sameach,” and learn the difference between minor and major holy days in Judaism, because Hanukkah is a minor holiday. Remember, too, that not all Christians celebrate Christmas. Let’s be respectful of that and let’s hear more “Happy Diwali,” “Eid Mubarak” and “Chag Chanukah Sameach.”
If you want to learn more about celebrations of other faith communities, I recommend purchasing a Multifaith Calendar from the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action. See http://www.edminterfaithcentre.ca/resources/2019-multifaith-calendar-coming-together-exploring-new-directions/. In workplaces, managers and supervisors can refer to it to be prepared for staff who may be requesting time off for their holy days – which, in some cases, is a strict requirement of their faith practice. If we don’t attempt to give time off for a holy day when it’s requested, an employer may be committing a human rights offence, but that’s not a great reason to make the accommodation.
Most people aren’t offended if you say “Merry Christmas” to them if they don’t celebrate it. If you encounter someone it bothers, simply apologize and make a mental note not to say “Merry Christmas” to them again. It’s that easy. Please stop telling people they have to say “Happy Holidays” and can’t say “Merry Christmas.” It’s making things worse for all of us and doesn’t make sense.
Merry Christmas and best wishes for a wonderful and inclusive 2019.
Tymmarah Sheculski is a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant living in Lethbridge. She has a master’s degree in Intercultural and International Communication and has been involved in interfaith work for over a decade as a board member of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre and co-founder of the Central Alberta Interfaith Network.
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