Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

Happy Holidays is a phrase that, for most people, would be one meant to be inclusive. Originally, I was going to write another post about love for this week, and I suppose this one still is related to that.

I love how living life can inspire a post in 5 seconds…

Picture this: I’m at the post office, inside the lobby, sending off a slew of Christmas cards to friends and family. It’s pouring rain outside, I’m holding an umbrella and papers. My hands are full as I approach the door to head outside.

A gentleman walked up to the door at the front entrance. He wore jeans and a sweatshirt with reflective material suggesting he worked in construction. He had a small note in his hand indicating he was picking up a package. He held the door open for me. In return I said, “Thank you. Happy Holidays!”

I stepped out to hear in a gruff tone, “Merry Christmas!” I could hear the seething offense through his gritted teeth.

5 seconds. That’s all this encounter took

Happy holidays vs. Merry Christmas. 

Different Traditions

I once wrote a post on ideas to Create Your Own Spiritual Traditions for the holidays. This is because I personally celebrate a lot of holidays in December. Some with friends, some with family, some with my significant other, and even some on my own.

This is why I say “happy holidays” if I don’t know you. It’s meant to be inclusive. If I don’t know you, I don’t know what you believe, and I actually want to honor that by wishing you joy and happiness in whatever you celebrate.

The case for “Happy Holidays”

There are hundreds of religions and different versions of those religions all over the world. The term “happy holidays” encompasses them all. Even for the fellow atheists.

Look, I’m agnostic and yet very spiritual. I get into the holidays even as I respect the paths and celebrations of others: solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, las Posadas, Kwanzaa…

I also think about those who have suffered loss. Perhaps it’s painful to be reminded “Merry Christmas,” if you have suffered trauma on Christmas day. Saying those two words can dredge up painful memories for them.

Another argument for saying “happy holidays” is that the US is not a religious state. It’s a country that embodies a mix of cultures and beliefs from all over the globe. The country’s founders made it a point to have separation of church and state. “Happy holidays” respects that separation.

happy holidays

Can we agree not to be offended?

I’d say this for both camps. I’ve met people who take offense at “Happy Holidays,” and those who take offense at “Merry Christmas.”

In this world, there is A LOT that is offensive:

  • social injustices
  • wage or gender inequality
  • wars in other lands
  • racial inequality
  • the state of the environment
  • a ridiculous proposition for a border wall

…just to name a few.

But a simple phrase? That is meant to bestow joy upon another? If you need to make a point to let everyone know about your offendedness when they have actually wished you well, I think that’s a stronger message that speaks to your character.

Cultivating some holiday compassion

What if, when you encounter someone who’s offended at your well wishes (thereby evoking your own sense of offense), you could treat this as a call for compassion?

I would be remiss as a meditation teacher not to include a call for more mindfulness and compassion in talking about dealing with other people.

Now, it’s not always easy cultivating a sense of compassion when your ego is screaming, “Oh, I could really just go and slap the Merry right out of that bloke.”

But that is the perfect time and opportunity to send that person a little love. They obviously need a little more of it in their lives. Perhaps you’d be the proverbial Angel of Christmas Present, lighting up a heart in full-on Dickensian style.

Mindfulness and meditation can really go a long way in helping you develop this skill. You can always practice this skill anytime a negative thought about someone else enters your consciousness. Use that as your cue to send out some love.

Still, there’s another reason to use compassion: you. You’ll feel better about yourself and you will have grown a little.

That difficult person just helped you to become a better person. How’s that for some personal growth?

Kindness reciprocated

If you tell me “Merry Christmas,” I will accept your kindness and I will offer you the same. Merry Christmas to you.

If you tell me “Happy Hanukkah,” I will accept your kindness and I will offer you the same. Happy Hanukkah to you.

If you tell me, “Happy Solstice,” I will accept your kindness and I will offer you the same. Happy Solstice to you.

If you tell me, “Merry Happy ChrHanSolRam,” (see what I did there?) I will offer you the same.  Merry Happy ChrHanSolRam to you.

That goes for Feliz Navidad, Feliz Nochebuena, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, New Year, Bodhi Day…

And if I don’t know you, by saying “Happy Holidays,” I am honoring your personal practice by wishing you joy for whatever it is that you do.

Don’t be offended but, Happy Holidays.

intuitive and spiritual

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