24 December 2016 - 3:15 pm

Why I say ‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas in my house also includes helpful cats. Like Cinnamon here. (Picture: mine)

Christmas in my house also includes helpful cats. Like Cinnamon here.
(Picture: mine)

Every year at this time, the world is rife with decorations, marketing, propaganda, and strident advice about what it’s okay to say to people when you want to share good will and wishes with them. Every year, I roll my eyes at how people can bitch and complain about how someone expresses those will and wishes.

The way I see it, whatever words come out of your mouth, the intent is what’s important. And the intent here is to wish someone well. Taking offence at that just seems petty and overly precious.

The crux of the issue seems to be religion, and that’s also a large part of why I roll my eyes. That’s not to say that I’m denigrating religion: the part that annoys me is that this has become a religious issue.

The way I see it, Christmas is not a purely religious holiday. Christmas is a part of Western culture that has grown out of many faiths: originally Pagan, co-opted to have some Christian trappings and elements, and liberally sprinkled with folklore characters and details. Christmas is much bigger and broader than all of those sources. The way I look at it, it’s more cultural than religious.

My immediate family members are not Christians. We don’t celebrate the birth of Christ explicitly or intentionally. The same is true of most of my friends and their families.

To us, Christmas is about getting together with family and loved ones. In some cases, reconnecting. It’s about giving gifts and showing others that we think of them, we remember them, we appreciate and love them. It’s about spending time with them, usually so difficult in our hectic lives. It’s about feasting and indulging, which is so frowned-upon in this milieu of dietary rhetoric driven by whatever trend is making the health industry money right now, and rare in a life driven by budgets and careful spending. It’s about taking a break from the stress of our regular lives, just for a short time. (I know, Christmas itself can be stressful, but that’s still a break from the other stress, right?)

In many ways, it’s about loving life and each other, and celebrating that.

I love Christmas in my house. It’s laid-back, it’s warm with welcome company, and I get to share gifts with people I care about (I love giving people presents).

It means so much to me that, in recent years, I’ve been inviting friends over to spend it with us. Specifically, friends who are away from their families, or who can’t get back to them, or who would otherwise spend it on their own. I think it’s good to spend that part of the year with others, indulge in good company and food, and then do nothing more strenuous than move to the couch.

It’s such a pleasure to have them join us and be part of our little celebration. They make me make more of an effort, and I think we all have a better time of it as a result. It reminds me of how big our hearts are.

I don’t think you have to be religious to feel blessed.

So when I wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’, it’s because I want them to feel as heartful and happy as our version of Christmas is, even if they don’t celebrate it (at all, or in the same way). I hope they enjoy this time of year – or even just today – however they choose to spend it. It’s a way to share this celebration with others, even those I barely know. ‘Good will to all men’ is a holiday-appropriate phrase that applies here.

I’m sure that when Christians say it, they have a similar intent, if different because their experience and conception of Christmas isn’t the same as mine. And that’s fine. They, too, are sharing the good will of something that means something to them with others. Even strangers.

I don’t check to see what flavour of Christmas someone prefers. I honestly don’t really care. Similarly, I don’t take offence if someone wishes me ‘Happy Hanukkah’, or any other type of religious holiday or festival-related phrase; I receive it with gratitude.

Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter what religion the recipient is; the giver is the one to whom it means something, who gives it meaning. I understand that they are wishing me well, and I take it in that spirit.

For me to say ‘Happy Holidays’ is to mouth empty words, and I don’t see the point in that, so I choose not to. I don’t mind that people use the phrase, but I do dislike when people attempt to make others feel bad for not using it. That’s not okay, and it’s not in the spirit of the holiday.

(Note: I know that companies and government entities have different challenges and considerations, and therefore so do their representatives. I’m speaking from a personal point of view, here; not a representative or spokesperson for anyone or anything but myself.)

It’s like going to France and saying to a local, “No, it’s not ‘merci’; you should say ‘thank you’.” If what someone is saying isn’t in your language or lexicon, translate it and then react.

Ultimately, let’s not get hung up on the words falling off people’s lips. Let’s try to be considerate and respectful, and understand what someone is trying to say to us. Let’s appreciate a time of year in which people share kind, well-meaning sentiments with each other, even with strangers. So few of us, me included, seldom take the time to share positive wishes with the people around us, so let’s make the best of it.

So you. Yes, you. Merry Christmas.

May it be wonderful in your world, however and whatever you’re celebrating.

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