No, “Happy Holidays” isn’t a way of respecting all religions

No, “Happy Holidays” isn’t a way of respecting all religions December 6, 2015

Here’s something that’s been shared by several facebook friends:

holidays mem

Which is certainly a well-meant thought.  But, with the good intention of being respectful, the creator and the sharers of this meme are displaying an ignorance and an insensitivity that they don’t intend.  The very creation of the idea of the so-called “holiday season,” after all, implies and assumes that in each religion or culture there is an important celebration roughly coinciding with the winter solstice, and many “happy holiday”-wishers go even further and perceive these holidays to all basically be a winter solstice celebration.

Now, looking at these seven religions:

Christianity, yes, if you speak specifically of Catholicism and maybe Orthodoxy, can account for a good number of these holidays, if you tally up not just Christmas but St. Martin’s Day, St. Nicholas’s Day, The Immaculate Conception, Epiphany, and however many other minor feast days you want to toss in for good measure.  Though the meme doesn’t come with a list, to know how many of these they’re counting, and I don’t think particularly many Catholics think of exchanging festive greetings on particularly many of these.

Islam has two “official” holidays, Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, and Eid-ul-Adha, the commemoration of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.  Given the nature of the Islamic calendar, there is no specific time of year at which they fall, so it depends from year to year whether either of them may fall in this time period.

Buddhism:  I’ve got to admit, it’s tricky to find a good listing of Buddhist holidays online; there are some that list all manner of regional festivals but don’t really give you a sense of what’s important and what’s not.  According to, the biggest festival is Buddha’s birthday, in May.  Second in importance is the marking of Buddha achieving nirvana, on January 15th, and third is his death, in April.  So let’s suppose that January 15th is the date chosen at the end of the range by the meme-creators due to this date — but all greetings of Happy Holidays and all such displays are removed by then anyway.

Judaism:  ah, yes, Hanukkah.  Or Chanukah, depending on your spelling preference.  Wouldn’t it be more respectful of Jews to wish them well on holidays that are genuinely important, rather than obliging them to elevate this minor one in order to fit into our “December holidays” schema?

Well, and the other three religions depicted — Hinduism, Sikhism, and Paganism:  I could repeat the exercise of hunting around for lists of, not just holidays, but descriptions of which are meaningful, but do you see my point?

Consider the debate about public displays:  rather than trying to “include” everyone with their officially-designated December Holiday, could we not invite religious groups to celebrate, in a public way, the holidays that are meaningful to them, regardless of where they fall on the calendar?

As for retailers:  I don’t really care all that much about using “holidays” in a generic sense when it comes to year-end gift-giving.  But please don’t use it as a synonym for Christmas by saying, for instance, “hurry, order by December 21 to have your item arrive in time for the holiday!”

And once you arrive at the days just prior to Christmas, please allow your employees to greet customers, especially those with Christmas tree wrapping paper, or a ham in their cart, or those wearing a cross necklace, with a sincere, “Merry Christmas.”

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