The “Happy Holidays” Fight

When I was a kid growing up in the 1980s, it was the birth of political correctness. We learned to try to include everyone, appreciate diversity, and be sensitive to other’s feelings in our words. Shopkeepers who used to say “merry Christmas” to all the people in the store began to replace it with “happy Holidays” to include more people.

I still think that’s a great thing.

Today there is a backlash against political correctness. Why can’t we say what we mean? Why do we have to censor our speech for some pansy people whose feelings might get hurt? They should just toughen up.

There’s this feeling that saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is some attempt to hide Christmas. As though that were even remotely possible. I would challenge you to go a single day in December in America without hearing the word Christmas at least five times. Probably a lot more. Or at least references to Christmas. There is no danger of anyone forgetting that it’s Christmas.

I’d have more sympathy if there were any references at all to my holidays while they were happening. Barely anyone in America knows of the existence of Diwali or cares. So I don’t really feel sorry for them that they feel let down by people wishing them a happy holiday.

Christmas is a holiday!

Saying “Happy Holidays” doesn’t diminish Christmas. It brings more of us under the umbrella and allows for more goodwill and happiness. What is so wrong about that? Why would you pick a fight about something that could be about people coming together and wishing each other well? Is that really the hill you want to die on? You want to stand up for your right to say “F you” to non-Christians instead of enjoying good will and love at this holiday time of year?

By all means, wish your family and your Christian friends a Merry Christmas. But what’s wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” to the stranger you meet whose religion you don’t know? Is it really hurting you to allow for the possibility that they don’t celebrate Christmas?

Christians, listen, in America you already have everything. Even the “Happy Holiday” signs are in Christmas colors. Your holiday is the biggest festival of the year all around our country. Enjoy it!

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • esha

    I have no clue on why you hate christmas so much. Even us in india celebrate christmas. Many hindus do. Nothing is wrong with it because to many of us its about family and being with loved ones.
    Well as an hindu I was taught not to hate other religions or cultures.

    • Ambaa

      I do my best not to hate other religions. That’s one of my challenges. And I use this blog to try to process and understand myself. I swear, I’m doing way better this year than I did last year! I’m not perfect and I’ve never claimed to be.

      In India Christmas is not a big deal because it’s a minority religion. It’s a very different experience when you are the one in the minority and pretty much everyone around you knows only one thing about your religion: that Indiana Jones killed some guy who ate living hearts in the name of Kali.

      This post is not about hating on Christmas at all. It’s about all of us enjoying and respecting one another.

      • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

        Christmas *is* a big deal in India – or at least parts of it – though! Kolkata’s Christmas, as I’ve mentioned before, is a massive festival. Christmas in Bandra, in Mumbai, is just lovely as was Christmas in Goa (which I got to do in 2006 – nice to celebrate Christmas in your swimsuit!) It may be a festival of a minority religion but it’s still done up big and not just Christians participate.

        I do agree though, that in the US there is this idea (which is generally blown way out of proportion) that Christmas, and Christianity itself, is under attack by (fill in your latest enemy here – Communists, secular humanists, atheists, Muslims, commercialism, the PC crowd, etc; all have been used). It is absolutely the most outwardly-celebrated visible holiday in American culture, and saying there’s a war on it is like little kids are waging war on soldiers when they throw pebbles at them.

        I think that everyone should just be a little more, ya know, festive, jolly, and loving this time of year instead of pointing fingers or licking wounds. There’s 364 other days for that.

        • Ambaa

          Sorry, by not a big deal I didn’t mean that I didn’t think it was celebrated much! I meant that it doesn’t seem to bother people and “be a big deal” in that way.

          • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

            Festivals are generally more inclusive in India from what I have seen; everyone wishes everyone everything. I think it’s more likely you will run into someone who celebrates different things there than here (even Hindus don’t all celebrate the same holidays, as you know) and so tolerance and acceptance is more a part of daily life.

          • Ambaa

            I really like the idea of everyone wishing everyone happy everything. I’d love to get to that point here in America.

            I think that’s what Jan is saying too. It would really be ideal if we were wishing people Merry Christmas now and we also wished them all Happy Kwanza and Happy Hannukah and Happy Diwali and Happy Eid and we all knew when all of those were.

          • Jan

            Exactly! I want everyone to wish everything. Just saying “Happy Holidays” seems meaningless to me, because other than the 4 days off from work I get, there isn’t a holiday for me to celebrate. I love wishing people and saying “Merry Christmas”, just wish someone would wish me for Diwali too.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

      I didn’t get any sense that the post was about hating Christmas as all.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

    I think too many people are anal retentive about the holidays, and not just Christmas. They seem to be the real Grinches in my view. Thanks for the post and Happy Holidays!

    • Ambaa

      Happy Holidays! :D

    • Sabina

      Agreed. I think all winter holidays- religious or secular, spiritual or commercial- are an objective good. They turn the cold, dark, depressing season into something to look forward to. They encourage people to spend time with their families and friends. I can’t fathom what would make a person resent members of minority religions and cultures celebrating their own holidays.

    • Sabina

      Oh yeah, and Happy Holidays!

  • Actionary

    We agree – and Happy Holidays!

    • Ambaa

      Happy Holidays!

  • Ambaa

    True, true!

  • Jan

    I respectfully disagree with this post. Disclaimer: I am a Hindu who lives in the US. I also hate the fact that no-one knows about Diwali or thinks to wish me come Oct/Nov. But Christmas is the holiday that comes in Dec. Hanukkah has come and gone this year. Using the term “Happy Holidays” seems to make feel good about themselves about acknowledging other religions, but they really don’t. There is no major Hindu festival that happens in December. I would rather they say “Merry Christmas” to acknowledge their festival, but remember to say “Happy Diwali” when Diwali comes around and similarly for other religions. Just replacing Christmas with Holidays around the time Christmas rolls around is not enough.

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

      There’s also Solstice/Yule and Kwanzaa.
      And there are also Christians out there who get weird about being wished Merry Christmas during Advent, who don’t even put their tree up until Christmas Eve (a small and dwindling number, but they’re there.) And there are people for whom “Holidays” means the seven to ten days they are going to take off the last two weeks of the year, regardless of whether they celebrate any religious festivals. There’s lots of reasons to say happy holidays. It sounds so festive too – we get to go to all the parties! But Merry Christmas is nice too. I don’t think anyone should be offended that someone’s wishing them something nice. We need more of that in society.

    • Ambaa

      It is true that I have no holidays in December (though, as Andrea points out, plenty of people who are not Christian do), but to me to hear someone say Happy Holidays is a kindness. They are offering me respect and I appreciate that. I’d love for them to know when my holidays are too, but that’s always seemed like asking way too much!

  • The Chakra

    Ambaa is correct. The main message here is :

    1. A person should not feel alienated for not celebrating or participating in christmas and instead should be equally respected. People don’t realizes how many individuals are forced due to peer pressure to celebrate a festival they would rather not – whatever the reason

    2. As the world becomes more integrated and pluralistic then we all need to do our part in making traditions, festivals and cultures a 2-way street. There will be disruption and awkwardness along the way, but ultimately it is for a better future where all respect each other, RATHER than just recognize each other.

    • Sabina

      Agreed! Especially with Point 1. A woman I work with blasts Christmas music at her desk for the whole office. I enjoy it because I grew up with Christmas, though I’m not Christian- but I wonder what she would do if I blasted bhajans on a day that was completely ordinary to her?

      • Ambaa

        You should do it and let us know what the result is! :D

  • HARRY

    First, Happy belated Diwali to you Jan, and where is my manners, I have not wished you one Ambaa, and to you as well and whole of your family. But we also have a mini Diwali in December it’s called Dev Diwali. I don’t know the exact date for this but my mother used to celebrate this, it’s always usually about 30 or so days after the main Diwali.

    The other point that Andrea made was that people celebrate Christmas in India and also other religious holidays. The main reason for this is very simple, because on those days it’s public holidays India, which automatically reminds everybody that it’s someone’s important holiday and that is why they are also off work, and I think, it’s because of this everyone knows and don’t mind celebrating it as well, where as this is not the case in The Europe or US when it comes to our Holidays.
    The day this will happen in USA or the Europe everyone will then know the important of it, but I don’t think it will ever happen in our lifetime, where our holidays will have same important as theirs. This shows that they don’t have any respect for our religion and culture or for matter of fact for anyone else’s who is minority group in US or Europe. It does not take rocket science to know this.

    This is why I understand your anger Ambaa.

    You should never compare India with US, this is where we are different and by doing this we respect others culture and religion in India and not just say it from our mouth for sake of being politically correct.

    • Ambaa

      Yes, respect is a big part of it for me.

  • esha

    What about hindu extremists? The same ones who would tell a lot of these non indian hindus to go celebrate christmas and leave hinduism alone?
    I, myself don’t care about christmas but writing this seems pointless and why should you bother if you are hindu?
    Is she forgetting how muslims make hindus lifes hell in india?
    What about eid and whatever other celebrations they have?
    Its not only from one religion

    • Sabina

      I don’t think she’s trying to hate on Christmas, Eid, or any other holidays. I think her problem is that in the US, people are basically forced to celebrate Christmas, and that many (but not all) Christians in the US have a problem with anyone who doesn’t- yet make no effort to learn about or acknowledge the religious holidays of people who don’t celebrate Christmas.

      It sounds like people in India are more respectful of diversity when it comes to religious holidays. I think the reason so many Christians here (in the US) get up in arms about people not celebrating Christmas is because they think of Christianity as the official national religion, and they think that’s the way it should be. From this viewpoint, even acknowledging another’s right to celebrate different holidays is un-American. Most of the Christians who I know personally are respectful or at least tolerant of diversity, but I’ve been privileged to know lots of kind, thoughtful, open-minded people.

    • Ambaa

      I’m writing from my experience and my perspective. Christmas is something that I have to deal with and come to terms with and so I evaluate each December how I’m doing with it.

      Issues with Islam are not as present here. They exist, but it’s in a very different way from India. I am not Indian and I don’t live in India, so I’m working through the issues that are happening in my life where I am.

      Hindus who want to say I’m not Hindu are delusional. It’s not a club with membership that they get to guard.

  • Maya Resnikoff

    I’m Jewish, and “Happy Holidays” goes a long way for me, in terms of feeling like a welcome part of the local community. Especially when I was a kid, “Merry Christmas” was a pretty painful thing to hear. For me as an adult, it’s not a big deal I know enough and care enough about my own religious cycle to be confident in dealing with the majority religion’s claim on public space. But as a kid, it really hurt.

    At the same time, the “Happy Holidays” thing claims what is otherwise a pretty minor holiday, and brings it up to a level that isn’t true to the Jewish ritual year. Hanukkah isn’t such a big deal, really, and almost no one thinks to offer appropriate wishes around Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in the fall, or around either Pesakh (Passover) or Shavuot in the spring. But Hanukkah, because it usually falls near Christmas, gets people’s attention. It feels strange, and inauthentic. But at least it’s acknowledgement, which Hindus, it sounds like, get even less of.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for sharing your experience, that’s exactly what I’m talking about!

      I’m willing to take Happy Holidays even though there isn’t a major holiday for me in December and I know it’s a similar thing with Judaism. In a way, American Judaism has a more major holiday in Hanukkah than Jews in other parts of the world, it seems.

      Some Hindus have made up a new holiday just to not feel left out in December (it was invented about 50 or 75 years ago now).

      (by the way, I was so inspired by your blog yesterday that I have a post next Wednesday responding to some of your points about passing and visibility!)

  • kr hoover

    I always thought ‘holiday’ came from the word ‘holy day’. thus, isn’t Christmas indeed a ‘holy’ day? SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?? HAPPY HOLIDAY as you celebrate the birth of our Savior.

    • Ambaa

      That’s what I’m saying! Christmas *IS* a holiday! :)

      Happy Holiday as you celebrate the birth of your savior. I won’t be celebrating!


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