December 24, 2013

Rethinking 'Happy Holidays'

According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, only 5% of U.S. adults report that they do not celebrate any holidays in December. And yet, as Tom Flynn (Center for Inquiry) noted in a post, 5% is more than twice the commonly reported size of the Jewish community in the U.S. (2.2%). But the number of people who do not celebrate December holidays was not what was so interesting about Flynn's post; the truly interesting part was what he had to say about the "happy holidays" greeting we hear so often this time of year.
Think about this. Decades ago, the American Jewish community, which then comprised perhaps 3 or 4 percent of the population, was able to compel the shift from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" simply out of respect for Hanukkah. Today the nation is more diverse, and "Happy Holidays" also allows for folks who celebrate Kwanzaa, Diwali, Festivus, and (in some years) one or another Islamic Eid. The group that "Happy Holidays" disregards is, of course, those who aren't celebrating anything this time of year. Many who celebrate nothing this month presumably find it annoying, even disrespectful, when others share a greeting that casually assumes that everyone is celebrating something as year's end draws near.
As one of the 5% who does not celebrate any holidays in December, do I find "happy holidays" annoying or disrespectful? No, not at all. But I have to admit that I've never really thought about it in the way Flynn suggests. I've always interpreted "happy holidays" as a statement so generic that it conveys positive sentiment to everyone, regardless of what (if anything) they might celebrate. I've always been fine being on the receiving end of such a statement, and I certainly prefer it to "merry Christmas," which I find insensitive.

What does annoy me this time of year, however, is the assumption that everyone celebrates something. I get awfully tired of having to explain that I have no interest in any of these holidays every December. Now that I've read Flynn's thoughts on the matter, I can't help wondering if there is a link between "happy holidays" and this assumption that everyone celebrates something. Maybe it is time to rethink using "happy holidays" after all.

Flynn ended his post with the following:
With 5 percent of Americans not celebrating anything, maybe it's time to take that next step past "Happy Holidays," and recognize that not everybody has any holiday to celebrate during this so-called festive season.
I have to admit that this is the first time this has occurred to me. Flynn's post contained something truly new for me, and I'm not yet sure what to think about it. Thought-provoking to be sure.

Update: After reading some of the comments left on this post, I've written some thoughts on the fact that some atheists do not celebrate Christmas or any other holidays in December.

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