Seasons Greetings! Merry Christmas! Happy Ho Ho! Happy Holidays! and so on and so on…
Can you explain why so many people push back against using an all-inclusive phrase Happy Holidays over Merry Christmas? As someone who is not Christian, it doesn’t seem like that much to ask, especially given the multi-cultural society that we live in.
I would appreciate any insights you have about this question.
Baffled in Burnaby
I love that you asked this question. Just this evening as I was making Angeline’s Favourite Hot Chocolate, I was pondering a similar topic. Actually, I was thinking about what it must be like for children who do not celebrate Christmas and so naturally do not get presents from Santa. Being pretty tuned in emotionally from a young age, when my oldest daughter Alex was six years old, she asked if some of her friends were “naughty” because Santa did not bring them anything for Christmas. If that doesn’t stir your heartstrings as a mum, I am not sure what would! There is also the often unspoken question of privilege about why some children receive many extravagant presents from Santa, while other children are lucky to receive one very modest dollar store gift. While I had already been using the Happy Holidays and not the Merry Christmas wish for years by then, my daughter’s curiosity crystallized the seriousness of this issue, making your question even more poignant.
Your why question is relatively easy to respond to, though. Simply put, from a psychological perspective, we know that it is natural to believe that our own way of thinking is the right way (even if this is not actually the case). It is often difficult to appreciate the world through another person’s eyes. This is a central reason why inclusivity and appreciating differences of various sorts can be difficult for many people to understand. When raised in a Christian-dominant culture, where it seemed that celebrating Christmas was a universal happening, you can imagine how confusing it must be to consider another reality.
In truth, I think that most people want to be kind and inclusive, at least in principle—as long as it does not require that they themselves need to change their own behavior.
Because of that, you may find that perhaps 11 months of the year most people can be very inclusive. Even so, once December rolls around, they suddenly seem to be blind to how their resistance to simply replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” impacts others. The recent Starbucks controversy is a perfect example of how this can play out. In more extreme situations, such insensitivity may even be perceived as a reflection of Christian-centric thinking. In the days of old, when homogeneous communities were more commonplace, this may have been entirely acceptable. In the integrated rainbow culture that we now live in, however, the rules for kindness have changed.
The great thing is that every person who reads your question will better understand how important this seemingly benign issue is. In many ways, what we are talking about here is resonant with the Inclusive Cooking initiative that I have launched and spoken about in my last Mindful Living column. With inclusive cooking, efforts are made to share food that everyone can enjoy so that no one is left behind. It is terrific that something as simple as breaking bread together inclusively is such an easy and accessible way to bring people of all backgrounds and religions together. In the end, whether it is Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, the message of being ‘heart-centred’ and not exclusionary is what this time of year is really all about anyway.
I hope this response is not only helpful for you, Baffled, but also helps others benefit by better understanding the complexities and significant emotional and social implications associated with the issue you raised. Thank you for your courage in asking such an important question.
Ask Theresa Nicassio PhD questions about health, psychology, life, food, parenting, wellness and whatever else you need advice on, by emailing her at Theresa@TheresaNicassio.com, with “BECAUSE YOU ASKED” in the subject heading. Feel free to sign your submission with a pseudonym of your choice (e.g. “Sleepless in Seattle”).