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Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! Happy Holidays!
By Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David DePinho, 55th Wing chaplain
/ Published December 12, 2013
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
In our increasingly secular world, there is a growing misunderstanding that it is safer to say "Happy Holidays" during the Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza season, than to name the specific holiday which you or most other people celebrate.
I am always drawn to explore these interesting dilemmas. I once read a book about etiquette that asked a funny question. Should you run the water in the sink when in the bathroom when visiting at another person's house, so as to cover "embarrassing" sounds associated with the toilet? The answer, "No", because in polite society, those sounds don't exist!
So on to our more season appropriate question. Is it appropriate to say Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah or other holiday specific greetings around this time of year in our increasingly secular society? Or should we just say "Happy Holidays" to cover everything and avoid imposing our holiday on others? The simple answer is - traditional greetings are fine. You can add the "Happy Holidays" greeting as well if you like, but even this is not required in polite society. Why? Because in polite society, whether we celebrate the named holiday for ourselves or not, we do celebrate our freedoms, and in America we relish the opportunity to celebrate our individual traditions, secular and religious. "E Pluribus Unum" which means "In Many One" marks the American value of celebrating our diversity, not hiding it!
The simple truth is Christmas and Hanukah are celebrated by more people who do not have strong faith convictions of the holiday than those who do. That is to say, Christmas and to a large extent Hanukah are now, for many people, secular traditional expressions of the season. No one objects to these holiday greetings except a small militant few. Simply put, we have worked ourselves up and made ourselves afraid of a non-issue.
Additionally, there is no legal or even social taboo suggesting these greetings are inappropriate outside of the most unfortunate and inappropriate politically correct circles. Tonight, you will go home to watch hundreds of T.V. "Christmas" centered commercials, "Christmas" program specials and celebrate "Christmas" parties. Be honest, if you weren't associated with the government, would anyone have a "Holiday Party" for fear of offending someone? Of course not!
Businesses across America have thoughtfully and skillfully navigated the season by holding "Christmas/Holiday Parties" for their workforce. By calling them this, deference is shown to the majority while remaining sensitive to the minority. Businesses are about making money, about keeping a happy workforce, if calling it a Christmas/Holiday party was offensive, it would have stopped already. By calling it this the tyranny of the majority is negated while at the same time not disrespecting the majority's beliefs and or traditions. After all, the federal holiday is called "Christmas"! If you aren't a Christian, do you fight to work that day?
This brings us to the other side of the issue. Since Christmas is the federal holiday and is a huge commercial, traditional and religious event, suppressing it or being seen to shy away from it is in itself offensive to far larger numbers of Americans than not. To shun mentioning Christmas is to suggest there is something wrong with it for millions of Americans. Polite society doesn't mention things that embarrass us, we don't mention things we are ashamed of, we are quiet about things which make us feel uncomfortable.
When we shy away from our traditional American greetings of the season, we reveal an unhealthy paranoia about our traditions; we reveal our own fear and anxiety. Muslims, Jews and Christians aren't afraid of the holidays of the others, we celebrate them. As I said, it's part of our American heritage of religious freedom enshrined in the very First Amendment to the Constitution, the law of our land! If you aren't terrible vested in religion, don't assume these greetings are offensive to people with different religions. In fact, today many Jews, Muslims and agnostics happily put up a Christmas tree in their home every year!
The truth is, these greetings are welcomed and honored as part of the season and our national heritage! So go ahead, greet your neighbor with a hearty Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah and add the Happy Holidays for good measure, you will almost surely elicit good feelings and today... someone might even consider you brave!
God bless and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and Happy Holidays to you my friends!
Chaplain, Lt. Col. David DePinho, Wing Chaplain, Offutt AFB.