Happy End of the Gregorian Calendar Year!

By Anya Arndt

***Disclaimer: It’s “War on Christmas”-time again, and I’m sick of it. So if you think the “War on Christmas” is a real thing, you should probably stop reading here, because I’m about to take on “Happy Holidays” as well, and explain to you why that too should be removed from casual conversation with strangers.

It’s the “Holiday Season,” and as we grow accustomed to the inundation of society with red and green, it’s sometimes easy to forget how uninclusive even a wish of “Happy Holidays” can be. The “Christmas Spirit” permeates society, and in the back corner at Target, we see a small Hanukkah section that reminds us not everyone appreciates a wish of “Merry Christmas.” But “Happy Holidays” doesn’t do the trick either. While you may be hard pressed to find someone who outwardly takes offense to “Happy Holidays,”  the term still illustrates a relative lack of understanding of religious diversity in this country and of the variety of holidays celebrated throughout the entire year.

While ranking holidays in order of most important to least important in a given religion seems pretty arbitrary, if one were to go about that, he or she would find that December is actually home to only two high-ranking holidays: Christmas and Winter Solstice (Christian and Pagan, respectively). While Judaism is represented in December with Hanukkah, the eight-day festival doesn’t compare in significance to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Passover. Additionally, because the scheduling of Hanukkah is based on the Hebrew calendar and not the commercially used Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah doesn’t always even take place entirely in the month of December (this year, Hanukkah is from November 27th to December 5th[1]). December is also home to Bodhi Day (on the 8th), celebrated by some Buddhists, but again, once that day has passed, “Happy Holidays” really isn’t a very inclusive greeting. While Kwanzaa is also celebrated in December, it is not associated with any one particular religious or spiritual tradition, and is not widely celebrated as a result.[2] So if you wish someone “Happy Holidays” in late December, you are basically assuming that he or she could only be either Christian or Pagan.

To emphasize my point, I’d like to offer a brief, and by no means exhaustive, list of religions that do not have holidays during the month of December: Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam (though Ramadan occasionally falls during December depending on the lunar calendar), Baha’ism, Jainism, Shintoism, Native American religions, atheism[3], Zoroastrianism, etc. All of these faith traditions are present in the United States, and all of them are essentially excluded by the greeting, “Happy Holidays.”

To be fair, I will probably inappropriately wish many people “Happy Holidays” for the entirety of the month of December, seeing as it tends to be rude to not return the greeting in our society. But I do believe that it is important to acknowledge that the wishing of “Happy Holidays” is just as Christian-centric as “Merry Christmas,” albeit a bit more discreetly.

So if you really want to be inclusive, try wishing your Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak” on Eid al-Adha (In 2014, this will be October 4-5). Or maybe wish someone Jewish “L’shanah Tova” on Rosh Hashanah (September 24-26, 2014).  If you have Buddhist friends, you can wish them a Happy Vesak Day (May 13th in 2014). I could go on with this list and I acknowledge that in not doing so, I’m excluding a whole host of religious traditions (but I don’t want to bore you, so I welcome you do some googling yourself to wish your friends well on their most important holidays or visit the BBC’s interfaith calendar).

My point is, it is important to understand that while the “Holiday Season” can be incredibly stressful for families celebrating Christmas, it can be incredible alienating for families who don’t. So let this serve as a reminder to be respectful of everyone you come across in the month of December, and maybe just wish them a good day, with a smile, like we all should on every day of the year.

[1] November 26th is thus “Thanksgivikkah,” if you will.

[2] I do not mean to offend by devoting little time to Kwanzaa in this piece, as it is a legitimate celebration of African heritage in African-American culture, but since it is not associated with any particular religion, it is not a “holiday” in the traditional religious sense of the word.

[3] While some atheists celebrate Christmas as a cultural tradition in the U.S., many do not. I am also not making any claims on whether or not atheists see themselves as part of a faith tradition by placing them in this list, seeing as some do and some do not, I am simply pointing out that atheism traditionally does not include a celebration of the birth of Christ as a spiritually significant celebration.

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