Dear Friends, I think of you when I write about topics you have told me you want to read about to improve your social and business skills. And, when I pick the topic independently, I still imagine I am talking to YOU as an individual, as ONE person at a time. Perhaps you feel this when reading “Communication Culture?”
So, today, I’m sending my sincere and heartfelt wishes for an excellent 2014 ahead. We do, however, have to negotiate the ‘holiday season’ before we can celebrate the new year that unites us via the calendar, despite the many other new year’s observances we may have in our multicultural community.
The tricky part is the minefield of messages we must manage in – the ‘holiday season.’
Christmas season, also called the holiday season in the U.S. and Canada, is that time between Halloween and early January. Officially, the “festive season, or simply the holidays or as many call it, the shopping season,” begins after American Thanksgiving. The reality is that we hear its siren song just hours after Halloween. We know it’s here because of the décor in the stores, the gift catalogues coming into our homes and the Christmas tunes that assail us in every bandwidth possible.
For many of us, who might not be of the Christian faith, or even those born into Christian families but who identify as agnostics or atheists, it’s a quandary every year:
The questions is, How to both accept greetings and when and how to give them.
Since the term “Christmas season” in Western culture was once used to cover the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Day to Epiphany day on January 6 it has a strong association for many. And, there is the expectation, given the history of the holiday and who the early settlers were of North America, to wish people Merry Christmas, and mean it!
Now, in our varied international and religious culture we are aware of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the African American cultural holiday of Kwanza.
Oh wait, we’re not finished.
There are as many other holidays in this ‘season’ as there are versions of Santa Claus, so let’s not forget St. Nicholas Day. I personally missed the lights that come with the Indian holiday of Diwali this year in early November as I was travelling then to a conference. Now that I’m back in town, I’m on countdown to the Lantern Festival, Yule, Festivus, winter solstice and if shopping is your thing, well there’s Black Friday and Boxing Day week.
And so, all these choices became the holiday season and the annual quandary continues.
I know from consulting friends, readers, colleagues or family that it’s a struggle to respond correctly to, or to initiate greetings as is expected at this time of the year.
The great big greeting confronting us all, however, is still: Merry Christmas.
What do we say to an exuberant “Merry Christmas” well wisher when we are:
– Not feeling very merry
– Not Christian
– Not observant because we are agnostic or atheist, though Christian born
– Not comfortable with embracing Christmas for personal, cultural or religious reasons
Have you tried a polite and neutral: Happy holidays, holiday season or season’s greetings, said in person or sent on cards? Yet, there are those who will be upset at dropping the rightful name of Christmas which is meaningful to them and who were certainly the majority for most of my time living in Canada.
“I don’t know what to say to people, so I just say, Hello.”
That’s the answer I got most often when I asked Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Jews, “What do you say at holiday times?”
Even Christians who could claim the biggest piece of real estate in the rhetoric of this season, hesitated, “because I don’t want to offend anyone. We live in a multicultural city, and ‘back home’ I would wish people Merry Christmas because I am Catholic, but here I am not sure what is OK to say.”
So, since I see you in my mind as individuals, I’ll just talk to you about how I handle the holidays and how some of those I consulted for this article do as well:
If I am wished Merry Christmas I smile, or say thank you as appropriate.
Optional: If I know the person or sense it is important to them and I am inclined to add to their spirit, I wish them Merry Christmas back.
If I know the person, and I know Christmas is important to them, I can choose to offer the greeting first. Sometimes it’s something that lifts a person’s spirits in a season full of so many images of family, affluence and good will. A warm word goes a long way in a cold, commercial season.
I do this because I know who I am, and what is important to me and I have no issues to honour someone else’s special days with a greeting. People who know me would not invite me to participate in their religious services nor would they expect me to buy or accept gifts of their significant religious symbols in jewellery, décor pieces or books, etc. They do know I will accept their wishes with good will and appreciation for their contact with me.
There is a space of mutual respect of what is special and where we come from. No need to go beyond our comfort levels. It’s not JUST WORDS to me. I share them with thought and with consideration for the source of the greeting and what my obligations are in the context. I don’t do what is not right for me.
I call on all the variations open to me: Merry Christmas, season’s greetings, happy holidays, best of the season, best wishes as I see fit and depending on how close I feel. I have no guilt as I feel quite present when I choose to greet another individual. If it is delivered as glibly as a 100th “Have a nice day” by a store clerk, I can simply chime back a, “you too” or, “thanks”, because I will return their greeting with the same energy or sincerity that it is delivered.
Media stories will wash over us all season; with greater intensity the closer we are to December 25. We’ll be presented with stories of small miracles, special reunions, returns of military family members and of new immigrants who might be Hindu or Muslim but who have brought a tree into their home, or hung stockings so that they will experience all that their new community offers.
It’s the bonus of being a human in a place where you can choose how you are and how you interact with others outside your immediate community.
English, with its more than a million words gives you all the choices you can want to express yourself. Our contemporary way of life, fortunately, offers us a variety of opportunities to learn about each other and to celebrate each others’ traditions to whichever extent we want to.
So, this holiday season, be who you are and let your light shine.