During the “Age of Enlightenment,” religion lessened its ties to nationality—consider the religious wars of Europe—and became personal. Today, almost all religions of the world are represented in America to some degree, and several of them celebrate important holidays around December. To be politically correct, many of us will say, “Happy Holidays” instead of the holiday celebrated by one’s faith. But we must ask ourselves, are we unnecessarily allowing public opinion to influence our personal practices? Is this a regression to the days of conformity?
As a recently converted Deist, I find little religious significance in Christmas, Hanukkah or (depending on the time) Ramadan, and frankly there’s no way I’m going to celebrate a holiday invented by Jerry Seinfeld. This was my first year saying “Happy Holidays” when I greeted my relatives, and I must say I felt a little bit empty using it. The phrase “Happy Holidays” is not an effective way of communicating holiday cheer for me, because it doesn’t specify a reason for the season. The one who bestows the greeting “Happy Holidays” obtains no emotional benefit from it, partially because it has less meaning to the one who bestows it, as by using “Happy Holidays” he or she is explicitly trying for vagueness, and partially because the recipient is denied the sender’s joy that would have accompanied a more purposeful greeting.
“Happy Holidays” also reinforces the negative idea of America as a “melting pot,” where cultures lose what makes them unique to a conglomerate American culture. Instead of presenting our crisp and flavorful diversity as the separate parts of a “salad bowl,” “Happy Holidays” seems to steam all the individual significance out of the holidays it attempts to mix. Many of you whom are religious have a responsibility to profess your faith, which can be partially fulfilled through holiday greetings. For those who are not religious and are uncomfortable saying “Happy Holidays,” try celebrating a secular holiday or refrain from giving holiday themed greetings at all next year, and evaluate how you feel.
Some might argue that with far more Christians than Jews in the United States, wishing a practicing Jew “Merry Christmas” might remind them of how few people they know who celebrate Jewish holidays. But this psychological response doesn’t necessarily translate directly to a feeling of loneliness. If I were to invent my own religious holiday, I could still celebrate it alone and be happy, for even though community is one of the greatest joys of the holidays, in the end a religious holiday is about the relationship between you and God. It’s also something that makes you who you are: an important piece of your individuality, and a proclamation that you have your own opinions and are going to voice them. Even if we decide to be politically correct and use “Happy Holidays,” we can all do with a little religious tolerance and not berate people for greeting us with some other phrase.