Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Generic Holiday Greetings To All

For a day that's supposed to represent peace and love, Christmas sure makes a lot of people angry. The only thing we get angrier about is the presidential elections. At least that only happens every four years.

We just finished Thanksgiving, the kickoff to the season of religious and consumer rages. It started with your racist uncle saying he didn't understand the big deal about Ferguson, and it won't end until the family New Year's Eve party, when someone gets stabby with a swizzle stick.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around next year, this year's anger fest will be a hazy memory and a promise from your family that "this time, things will be different." Nothing has changed or been different with your family for the last 20 years, so why break tradition?

One of the reasons people get so emotional about Christmas is because they feel it's being threatened. Sixty years ago, when most celebrated Christmas, we put Christmas decorations up in the schools, opened school board meetings with prayers, said "Merry Christmas" to anyone and everyone, secure in the knowledge that they too celebrated Christmas, just like everyone else.

Then, people who didn't celebrate Christmas for religious, cultural, or personal reasons found they had a voice. They pointed out they were left out of the holiday season.

The Jews celebrate Hanukkah, the Muslims celebrate Ramadan, the Hindus celebrate Diwali, and the atheists don't observe a religious-based holiday. And these other groups wanted to celebrate their own holidays on their own terms, and use their own words for well-wishes.

This prompted people to do one of three things: cry "political correctness" and refuse to recognize anyone else's holiday (or feelings); remove all references of Christmas and Christianity so as not to offend anyone, but end up offending everyone; or, let everyone do their own thing.

None of these seem to make anyone happy. Three things happened in the news this week that bear this out.

First, an elementary school in Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston, was going to cancel their annual trip to see the Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker, because there was a Christmas tree on stage. The PTA worried this would indoctrinate the non-Christian children in the audience.

Even though the school had sent second graders to the show for decades, this year, some parents complained that The Nutcracker had religious content. So rather than allow parents to choose to send their children or not, the PTA cancelled the trip.

Without telling anyone.

However, word spread, and there were more people who were upset by the secret cancellation than by the tree itself, so the trip is back on.

Presumably, the children whose brains will be ruined by a religious symbol will stay home, where they won't be exposed to new ideas or a broader world view until they're much older.

Second, in Marshfield, Mass., Marshfield High School has residents up in arms because they edited the school calendar: they changed the name of the winter break from "Christmas Vacation" to "Holiday Break."

They're leaving the name "Christmas" on December 25, but have changed the name of the 12-day break to better represent the diversity of their community.

The school committee had changed it to "Christmas Break" in 2007, and received a number of complaints afterward, so they decided to change it back to "Holiday break" in August.

Many people were upset by the change, so one woman launched a petition to see the calendar restored. She's collected more than 4,000 signatures of people who are threatened by a name on a piece of paper. But the committee held fast and upheld the change in a 3–2 vote.

If they're truly upset, will the 4,000 people will stand by their principles and send their children to school on those days, refusing to accept a "holiday" break?

F'inally, Washington state, in an attempt to appease everyone, has passed a new law that mandates two unpaid days off for religious observances for people of all faiths.

KING 5 News reported that the new law went into effect in June, and wondered what actually constituted a religion. Of course, it's not a TV news story if they don't try to generate mock outrage, so they said reported that even Festivus, the fake holiday from "Seinfeld," would constitute a "religious observance."

There's no escaping it: there's more than one religious faith practiced by a large number of people in this country. We' all have our own religious practices and observances. We all have our special holy days. The secret to holiday happiness is accepting the existence of everyone's observances, and not being a jerk about it when it doesn't coincide with yours.

Wish your Christian friends Merry Christmas, your Jewish friends a happy Hannukah. Wish your Muslim friends a blessed Ramadan and say "happy Diwali" to your Hindu friends. Don't pretend theirs are fake, or whine about a "War On [My Holiday]" when someone hints at the existence of someone else's.

As for me, I'm celebrating Festivus on December 23rd, especially the airing of grievances.

Starting with why I can't put up a Festivus pole in the living room.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

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