I’ve taken my holiday greeting cue from my friendly next-door neighbor, who happens to be Jewish and who never fails to greet my family and me with a warm “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy Easter!” on these special days.
When it comes to greetings it’s best to be fluid, flexible, and cast a wide net.
In my beloved Wisconsin hometown, which happens to be almost universally Christian, the “happy holidays” crowd tends to be viewed with suspicion (at best). If almost all of us believe in (or at least pay lip-service to) the religious dimensions of Christmas anyway why not just say it: “Merry Christmas!”
I’m not judging myself or my people; much of this comes from an admirable desire to stand up for what we believe in, to embrace our tradition and make it mean something. It’s also a very healthy reaction to the rampant commercialism of Christmas.
My sons have grown up in a very different world. They have been blessed with classmates in school who are from Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and a variety of Christian backgrounds – not to mention those families that are intentionally non-religious. For them, a homogenous community is something almost foreign.
My views on holiday greetings also developed further after I met my wife Manju. She grew up in India as a Christian, part of a religious minority of less than 3%. Her home city of Pune has a relatively high level of tolerance for religious diversity but the subtle and sometimes not so subtle biases and prejudices against Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others were definitely part of her life.
Growing up in this environment, she developed a great appreciation for the religious traditions of her friends, classmates, and neighbors. She knows which friends are celebrating Diwali, Eid, or Vaisakhi. She knows what they’re celebrating and how to talk to them about it. Her own Christian faith is not diminished in the process.
My wife also has made me realize why a secular government and society are so important. They are key when you’re one of the 2.7% of Christians in a country that is 80% Hindu.
Perspective is everything. So the cashier at Walgreen’s greets me with a “Happy Holidays!” on December 24? That’s really a very small price to pay for true religious freedom.
May the true spirit of Christmas transform all of us!