When I was very young, I remember assuming that ‘happy holidays’ was the shorter way of saying, ‘merry Christmas and a happy new year!’ Once I was old enough to attend school, this seemed even more obvious, since we got a break for both Christmas and New Year’s.
Then I started learning about other holidays that fall around the same time: Yule, Hanukkah, Festivus, Bodhi Day, Yalda, Saturnalia, Pancha Ganapati, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Kwanzaa, Hogmanay…to name a few. There are a lot of Saint’s Days, too. And, well, have a look for yourself: Wikipedia has a nice list of winter festivals.
When I brought this up, I was told, “Well, it was the middle of winter. What else were people supposed to do with themselves?” Throw in an annual, observable solar event and holidays clustering around that time seem inevitable. Today’s celebrations are a grab bag of customs and traditions from all over, many long divorced from their original purpose. People have a long history of bumping into each other, observing what the new group does on their holy days, and saying, “Hey, that thing you do is pretty awesome. We’re…just gonna borrow that, ok?” Or people intermarry and bring their old traditions and build new ones. Add a few hundred years and there are new reasons (or no reasons) why anyone’s doing anything.
I’m utterly mystified by this kind of behavior. Being inclusive, by definition, isn’t leaving anyone out. It seems like a very fragile faith that is threatened by merely acknowledging that there are other holidays, other faiths, and those people with those differing beliefs may be interacting with you.
Personally, I’ve never been Christian. I’ve never been to a church, I’ve never been a part of any of it. And I never felt alienated until the War on Christmas became A Thing. Until there were lines drawn and there could be hostility or a political statement in ostensibly good wishes. Through most of my life, hearing ‘merry Christmas’ was just that. Now it’s taken on very exclusive connotations, and when I hear it, there’s a place inside of me that thinks, “You don’t really mean me. You are deliberately and with hostile intent leaving me out of your well wishes. And you don’t even know it.”
But you know what I say?
I’m not so sure there’s a war, and I’m definitely not going to engage in any skirmishes or battles.
And if I ever do say, “Happy holidays,” that’s really all I mean.
And I hope they are.