Perspective on "Happy Holidays"
Goebbels (as has been noted) would have given his saluting arm for television. It's such a spookily effective device for thought control: there's something about the way your imaginary friends on the teevee (and talk radio, come to that) speak right into your receptive noggin that makes incautious viewers mistake deliberate propaganda for the interior workings of their own minds. Currently making the rounds, even among folks who ought to know better, is the notion that there's something offensive about the greeting "Happy Holidays," as distinct from "Merry Christmas." At the risk of offending -- ever notice how those who bristle at others taking offense*, are quick to take offense themselves, when it serves their purpose? -- a brief bit of perspective on the subject.
Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, I was around for the transition from the standard greeting "Merry Christmas" to the more general "Happy Holidays." What this grew out of was the slow recognition that there existed in America (even in the middle west, where this native Californian spent several childhood years) such a thing as Jews
, and that -- wonder of wonders -- Jews did not
in fact celebrate what was fancifully** termed the birth of Jesus Christ. This first awakening to cultural diversity uncovered more surprises over time: it turned out there were also Moslems, Hindus, atheists, and who knew what else -- of late, even pagans and magical types! -- many of whom also did not celebrate Christmas. Imagine that!
I confess a certain fondness for that cultural awakening; an actual affection for the idea that both the United States, and the world, are made up of numerous cultures, religions, and points of view...and a related antipathy for anything that would try to replace the blinders, to make Americans in particular more culturally dense. This feeling, first experienced in childhood, has only deepened with age -- particularly as I have come to understand the cultural forces that wiped out ancient knowledge for the better part of a thousand years, and made the Renaissance (for which we principally have Islam and Judaism to thank, btw) necessary in the first place.*** So that's Point One: if you want human enlightenment to survive, you might make some effort to preserve, rather than attacking, cultural diversity.
Point Two is the practical one: most people on earth simply don't celebrate Christmas in the literal sense. Even most Americans who celebrate what they call "Christmas" are celebrating a largely secular holiday; IMHO, most of the people whose single visit to a Christian church all year is at Christmas (or even that and Easter ;) ) cannot be said to be practicing Christianity with any degree of fervency, and how many Americans who celebrate "Christmas" don't actually go to a church at all, ever?**** But the vast majority of Americans (and plenty of other folks) celebrate an entire season of holidays
, at the end of the calendar year...and (here comes Point Three) for huge numbers of those people that "holiday season" is singularly UNhappy
Cath and I -- both raised Christians, both Thelemites by choice -- are relieved of most of the burdens of extended family, and free to celebrate what we like, so our usual October to December run is Crowleymas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Winter Solstice, none of them more or less likely to feature gift-giving (we're a pretty gift-giving couple year 'round); we also give Christmas gifts to those few who celebrate it in our immediate circle. But given that almost everyone we know faces a steady stream of get-togethers from Thanksgiving through Christmas to New Year's (another one we don't celebrate, until March) -- and that many of these gatherings feature actual misery
-- we both feel the constant wishing of "Happy Holidays!" during that time is a sort of corrective spell: an invocation of joy, cast into the cloud of more traumatic emotions.
So, as I often put it in this seven weeks or so, "Happy Holidays of your choice" -- including none at all. And as our quarter rituals have it, "The Wisdom of the Seasons is Reconciliation: in Light Darkness, in Darkness Light, and Love and Freedom in All."
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Specifically the people who have fallen for Midge Decter's highjacking of the term "political correctness." "PC" was originally a self-corrective, coined by lefties to temper overtortured language; these days it's increasingly used to make bigotry and insult seem unusually brave. :P
** December 25 "became" Jesus' birthday as a way of ending pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. We don't know when Jesus was born, though the odds (per my college Bible classes, anyway) favor spring over winter.
*** I am hiding behind an additional comment to this post a brief discussion of these forces, taken from Ramsay MacMullen's works, and particularly his authoritative Christianity & Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries
**** I realize there are some few "serious Christians" who resolutely refuse to be "churched." More power to them, but their numbers are comparatively small.
***** I believe there are reasons for this, and touch on them briefly, also behind the comment. Talk about culturally sensitive! ;)