Family life

Do holiday greetings have to be inclusive?

Tracy's shocked by how passionate people get about the idea of replacing “Merry Christmas” with a more inclusive greeting.

1Holidays-November2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

Now that the Halloween decorations are packed away, it’s time to move full steam ahead to the Christmas season. If you celebrate Christmas, that is.

Something that starts to circulate in the weeks ahead is the ridiculous controversy over the use of the term “happy holidays.” I see it on social media, and hear it debated in conversations between the most surprising (to me) people. I’m always shocked by how passionate people get about the idea of replacing their beloved “Merry Christmas” with a more inclusive greeting.

I grew up in a small town, not giving much thought to the idea that some people didn’t celebrate Christmas. Everyone I knew did. But then I became an adult. And then I moved to the Toronto area, where I met many, many people who celebrated all sorts of things in November and December — occasions that were woven into their cultures and their hearts and their histories as tightly as Christmas was into mine.

Read more: Interfaith families: Celebrating the holidays >

At my first big-girl job, I worked with several Jewish and Muslim people, who opened my eyes to some of their beautiful customs. Then I joined a family that had a big Jewish contingent. Obviously, saying “Merry Christmas” to any of these people was completely meaningless, so when I wanted to give them my warm wishes at this festive time, it only made sense to say “happy holidays.” It also dawned on me early in my Toronto years that the guy scanning my groceries, or the woman writing a story for me, or the kids running around my street, didn’t necessarily celebrate Christmas, but would probably never correct me if I wished them a Merry Christmas. But if my goal is to give them my best wishes, choosing the wrong words turns a sincere gesture into an inconsiderate — or worse, offensive — message. It says, “Christmas is the only celebration that counts” which equates to “My cultural beliefs are more important than yours.”

I can’t quite wrap my mind around what those who celebrate Christmas feel they lose by saying “happy holidays” in cases when they’re not sure what the other person celebrates. Do they really not get their fill of Christmas — between the parades and the Santa in every mall, the buildings decked out in red and green, the TV shows and movies, and the myriad events going on everywhere all December long — that it pains them to convey a message not wrapped in the C-word? Why is it so offensive? How does it snatch away their joy or diminish their celebration?

I can’t bear discrimination of any kind, and it’s one thing to say “I’m going to say Merry Christmas because that’s what I celebrate” and a whole other thing to say “How dare they come to our country and tell us we can’t say Christmas anymore?” That, to me, is appalling. First of all, it’s not just people who have recently arrived in Canada who don’t celebrate Christmas. You must know this. Secondly, from what I’ve seen, it’s never this “them” who are trying to enforce a more inclusive celebration. It’s us. Well, some of us — the ones who care about the feelings of our friends, our colleagues, our kids’ friends and families, and strangers on the street, who have every right to celebrate their customs. They have no interest in abolishing ours. They just want to celebrate something that matters to them, too. There’s no “us and them” in any of this, unless we manufacture it.

The biggest heartache for me is when I hear people complaining about no longer being able to have a December “Christmas” concert at school. “We can only have a ‘holiday’ concert,” they growl, as if it’s a personal vendetta. Guess what? It’s not. It’s not about you, or an attempt to steal away your child’s chance to celebrate Christmas. It’s about not forcing kids to spend weeks practising and then getting all dressed up and excitedly standing in front of their parents to sing songs and share messages that mean absolutely nothing to them. Do kids who celebrate Christmas care about the songs they sing? I doubt it. As I said, they certainly get enough opportunities to celebrate Christmas everywhere they go outside of school. Do they have their holiday spirit snuffed out? No way. What it does is let every child enjoy the event, without feeling like he doesn’t belong, or that her beliefs don’t matter. How can parents begrudge this? I love that our kids are learning this so young that they’ll never know another way.

I’m sure we all tell our kids that each person they meet is just as worthy and special and important as anyone else. But that message is conveyed by our actions, not just our words. The holidays give us important opportunities to share these messages in a meaningful, powerful way. It’s no time to put kindness and inclusiveness on pause.

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