“Happy, Um, Holiday of the Decorated Trees?”

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? Someone recently said that this is what our school district was calling a certain upcoming holiday. They were joking, I think, but it’s getting so hard to tell these days, isn’t it? It’s pretty ironic: The more highly our society prizes tolerance and celebrates diversity, the more easily offended everyone seems to be! Sometimes if feels like you need a degree in diplomacy to help you say the right thing during the holidays. SO. How do we greet  people during this time of year? Some people, wishing to cover all their bases and offend the fewest people, simply wish everyone a ‘Happy Holidays’ and move along. After all, there are several holidays during this season. We just had Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah notably started the evening before Thanksgiving as well (an event not to recur for something like 77,000-plus years!). Then there is Christmas and Kwanzaa. Depending on how the calendar works, other traditions can have holidays during this time of year as well. Living in a multicultural society, it is simply a fact that many different people celebrate many different holidays at about the same time of year. Maybe “Happy Holidays” is the safest route. Others, bristling at the notion that “their’ holiday is victimized by the political correctness police, defiantly wish everyone they come into contact with a ‘Merry Christmas,’ whether the other people celebrate Christmas or not. These people are scandalized by the efforts to seemingly remove all the joy from the season–like the times when protestors insist on Christmas tree displays being removed from airport terminals, and things like that. After all, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas in one form or another, even if they aren’t exactly celebrating the birth of Christ. While I like to see Christmas displays anywhere and everywhere, and remember fondly how even Japan has adopted Christmas as a kind of Valentine’s Day, where people show love to each other, and stores were decorated for Christmas (and if a country where only 1% of people are Christians can acknowledge Christmas, why do we have such conflict over it?), I bristle at how uncompassionate or even disrespectful some of the more defiant “Merry Christmases” can sound. Just like in the Bible, where it says that “a little child shall lead them,” maybe there is a better way, taught to me by the kids at my elementary school. Ever since I started helping out on the playground, I’ve been delighted by the number of kids who like to stop by to say hello, to ask me about my weekend, or just to walk with me for a minute or two before running off to play again. As the first Christmas in this new job came closer, I was surprised to hear something I had never heard before: Instead of wishing me a ‘Merry Christmas,’ the kids asked me, “Do you celebrate Christmas?” Kids from a wide variety of backgrounds wanted to know. Even in the public schools, I believe an honest question deserves an honest answer, so I would simply reply that yes, I did. Usually they would just smile and tell me to have a nice Christmas, or a Merry Christmas, or they’d stick around another minute or two to ask me what I did to celebrate it. Kids are curious. Many of these kids at school were from Asian cultures, so Christmas is a somewhat mysterious thing for them. I like to think they had found someone they trusted who wouldn’t make fun of them or look appalled that they didn’t already know all about it. Asking me first if I celebrated Christmas, and our resulting conversations, felt polite, respectful, real. The traditional mission field has moved in next door. Now, as I have said before, the school is not a place for evangelizing, and that is not what was happening when I answered a few basic questions about a popular holiday in our society. However, if we were missionaries in Japan or Papua New Guinea, we would certainly take a humble and gentle approach as we met and got to know people. We would try to show the love of Jesus through, amazingly and simply enough, our love. Maybe we do need a little diplomacy training at Christmas time. Only don’t think of it as succumbing to the political correctness police–let’s simply remember to be the same polite, considerate people we are the rest of the year! Maybe I’ll start by remembering to pray for the mission field that has moved in next door, and take a little advice from some pretty respectful kids I know, as well as the apostle Paul:

 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2

About Sonja Anderson

I write novels and picture books for children, and occasionally an article or short story for adults, too. I grew up in Ohio, and I have lived in Chicago, Connecticut, Boston, Tokyo, and Seattle. The beautiful Pacific Northwest inspires me every day.
This entry was posted in Being a Good Neighbor, Diversity, Holidays, Loving our Neighbors, School and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “Happy, Um, Holiday of the Decorated Trees?”

  1. Great post! I wrote about this subject as well… with the “holidays” approaching, we are constantly reminded of this debate…

    http://fromthedeskandshelf.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/saying-merry-christmas-vs-happy-holidays-how-we-should-respond-to-this-tired-debate/

    Like

  2. Susan Redhed says:

    Hi, Sonja! I really appreciated your holiday post; excellent! What are your plans for the NCWA meeting? Sue

    Like

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