Sunday, December 22, 2013

Why I say "Happy Holidays"

I really shouldn't like this time of year as much as I do. As the daughter of two of the most prolific drinkers who've ever shaken a swizzle stick (copyright: Laura Enright) I should hate this season for the very same reason that I hate Thanksgiving, a holiday I hate for the reasons I should hate this season.

Holidays in my family were anything but. They were often nasty, bitter affairs steeped in anger and alcohol and a soupson of hatred as one drunken parent tried his or her best to piss of the other (when they weren't starting fights with one of the kids). Thanksgiving, for example, was spent in enforced togetherness measuring how much wine was left in the second bottle of Cold Duck and trying to gauge whether the drunk my parents were falling into was a happy or angry drunk. If it was a happy drunk, we could all play cards and enjoy life. If angry...well, you can imagine the rest.

That's not to say that we didn't have some good times. Those late night poker games were a lot of fun. And when I was really young, and my parents were still trying, there was joy in the season. Unfortunately, the bad times became more frequent as time went on and left more of an impact. So holidays for me, at least when it comes to the notion of "family", don't mean a heck of a lot.

But there is something about December. 

To me it's a magical time. Part of it could be because I love winter and the romance behind it. The idea that one year, with all its joy and sadness, is grinding to a halt soon to be replaced by the hope of a new year with all its potential. That's why cultures were drawn to celebrating this time of year. December 21, the shortest day of the year with all its promise of warmth to come as the days grew longer again.

Okay, winter isn't always magical.
I was raised a Catholic. Well, when I say raised, I use the term loosely. Honestly, my parents didn't really raise me as anything. I mean, there was some vague theological discussions in my house between my mom and I when I was a kid, but neither of my parents seemed all that interested in religion outside of listing on forms that they were Catholic. I think we went to church for a few years, but that didn't last. If I hadn't spent my grade school years at a Catholic school, I probably wouldn't have gone to church at all. I didn't get much of an education at the school, but I did make it to church every Friday during lent (it got us out of class. I don't know which was worse). 

But because we were pseudo-Catholic/Christians we celebrated Christmas. We didn't go to church on Christmas, and the baby J's name barely came up, but we did celebrate Dec. 25 (with gifts and the afor mentioned drinking). So when I wished someone happy tidings at this time of year, I wished them "Merry Christmas." I remember decorations and cards that had the term "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons' Greetings" in them, and the world didn't end. But "Merry Christmas" was natural to me. 

When I was 14 I left the church. Come on, we all knew it was coming. I had a mom and a dad who couldn't stand to be in the same room, yet the church was telling me that these two getting divorced and perhaps finding a better relationship with other people was a sin. Even when I was 10 I could see through that nonsense. They're moving onto mates better suited to them would have helped out not only them but their four children who had to live with the bitterness and hatred they showed each other every day. Don't tell me divorce is a sin. Or homosexuality. Or contraception or abortion, for that matter. I could not agree with the teachings of the Catholic church, so I moved on. 

Christianity became for me one more religious philosophy out there, and each had its good points and its bad points. But I began to realize that it isn't necessary to have any religious philosophy to be a decent person. 

It's possible that it was a nun who unknowingly started me on this path. When I was in second grade a nun (I forget her name) told me that I shouldn't do good to curry God's favor. I should do good cause it's the right thing to do. I took that to heart. And even while I believed in the Christian God, I didn't do good to placate him. I did it cause it was the right thing to do. Instinctively. Without denomination. 

Which is why I'm so very receptive to the greatness of this time of year. This time of year has resonance in many cultures. Hanukkah (that's the "Judeo" part of "Judeo/Christian" that so many people like to cite) this year started Nov. 27 and ended Dec. 5. Dec. 21 marked the date of the Winter Solstice, sacred to many Pagan religions (that's the festival where so many Christmas traditions sprang from). 

Hey look! It's a Holiday Tree!!
Hell even those who don't believe in anything can enjoy the energy of this time of year as we say goodbye to the old year, with it's good and bad and usher in the new year with its promise to come. I have friends of all stripes, theologically speaking, so for me, wishing someone a "Happy Holidays" covers all bases.

There is something for everyone. That's precisely why I say "Happy Holidays." As someone who works with the public, I'm not going to be arrogant enough to presume what religion a person I encounter does and doesn't celebrate. I work with and come into contact with people of differing faiths. And what's more, I don't really care. When someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas" I take it for what it is, another human being wishing me the best at this time of year. Even today, 35 years after I said goodbye to the Catholic church, my first instinct is still to wish people a "Merry Christmas." It's how I was raised. But I've retrained myself to say, "Happy Holidays" because I want to include everyone in the joy I feel at this time of year. It doesn't detract from my life in anyway. But it opens my warm wishes to everyone, no matter their faith (or nonfaith). 

How is that a bad thing? In this fantastic nation where some very far-seeing people established the right for people to believe (or not to believe) in anything they wished, how is it a bad thing for someone to wish someone else "Happy Holidays"? I'm not taking the Christ out of Christmas. I'm doing something much more important: I'm honoring my fellow human beings, including those who don't believe in Christ. By wishing "Happy Holidays" I'm bestowing good wishes upon them without assuming what theology they follow. When a municipality names something a "holiday tree" or a "holiday parade" they're actually honoring the men who fought to create this nation by including everyone in this nation (including all those paying taxes into this great nation). Religious freedom was groundbreaking in the late 1700s when it came about in the United States (who weren't exactly united over everything). It's something that we should still honor today. Yet there are factions who piss and moan because someone is wishing someone else a "Happy Holiday" at this time of year. It's kind of sad, saying more about those people doing the moaning, than those people bestowing the wishes.

So with that, as 2013 draws to a close, I wish everyone, whatever they celebrate, happy holidays and all the best for the new year. 

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