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Happy holidays, from one of those annoying social justice warriors offended by everything and determined to put an end to free speech.
This never quite jibed with my perception of self – I have thick skin and happen to be anti-censorship, though I do love that sweet, sweet justice – but I get accused of it all the time. It’s like when someone rages against ‘political correctness’, yet all that actually happened was someone was encouraged to be kinder. I live by the ethos of Maya Angelou – “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” – but there are always those who remain glued to tradition like a kid’s tongue to a frozen fence post.
I say Happy Holidays at the checkout. I celebrate the season and the solstice, and I object to more than ten per cent of every single year being immersed in consumerism and crappy music. I say Happy Holidays not because I don’t celebrate Christmas, but because I can’t be sure the person on the receiving end does. I have no need to presume the belief system of a complete stranger, nor do I need to prescribe my own by using a narrow and specific greeting.
Having said that, I don’t tell people what they can and cannot say, and with exceedingly few exceptions, I truly believe that most people have only the loveliest intentions when wishing me a Merry Christmas. I have friends who are Christian and I’m grateful when they pray for me, because it means they are holding me in their heart and wishing me well, which is exactly what I do, by a different name, for my friends. I wouldn’t tell them not to bother or that their words are wasted, just like I wouldn’t ask them not to say Merry Christmas to me.
What I do ask, of everyone, is to consider the impact of a dominant religion with a history of violence and oppression being used as the default for each and every citizen. I think many people say and hear Christmas-related phrases without diving deeply into the implications, but I suppose that’s why I’m here: to ask people to delve into the depths of the things we say, do, and think, consciously or otherwise. I still get taken aback that we are approaching the year 2020 and haven’t earnestly attempted to adopt inclusivity when it comes to language and celebrations.
According to a 2011 survey, 24 per cent of Canadians declare no religious affiliation. This number is pretty statistically significant and it means that a good chunk of the people we greet don’t share the same religion associated with the greeting. Given this number, what I find affronting isn’t merely being wished a Merry Christmas – it’s when people object to my saying ‘Happy Holidays’. Even more confounding is when I start with my greeting and the responding ‘Merry Christmas’ feels like less of a wish and more of a correction. I’m not trying to erase anything – I’m making space.
I would have even less issue with this if it were just about a greeting, or a prevailing attitude, but it’s not. It’s our ever-present reality. Every other song on the radio mentions Christmas, it’s hard to find a holiday card that doesn’t allude to traditional Christmas trappings, and for more than a month people get swept up in shopping, party planning, and various seasonal panics and anxieties. If anything could be described as unavoidable, it’s Christmas. It’s what happens when you combine capitalism and religion – less about giving and more about buying.
I appreciate the backlash I’m seeing against this – families adopting a no-gift Christmas because of the pressure to get the perfect gift, the acknowledgement that our addiction to stuff is destroying the planet, and the awareness that the best part of any holiday is connection with our loved ones. But I wish we’d never had to get to a place of backlash, that we’d maintained a steadfast dedication to togetherness and generosity. That’s a Christmas tradition I might have been able to get on board with.
But in a lot of ways, that’s not what we have. We have engineered outrage about the ‘war against Christmas’, rolled out on conservative or religious media year after year, with no space for real conversation. We have bad faith arguments that claim people are being ‘forced’ to give up their religious beliefs or that there’s no longer any space for Christmas in this new, inclusive world. Ironic, when you consider the historical uses of force that Christians have used to suppress other religions. A little bit of a reversal, I’d say – which is something that every dominant system uses, from patriarchy to white supremacy.
When you’re used to being the default, it becomes the air you breathe. You don’t notice it until someone comes along and starts to take away your oxygen. Except in this case, your oxygen levels remain perfectly safe, it’s just that you’re being asked to acknowledge that other people breathe this air too, so if we could just share… It was never okay that irreligion and non-Abrahamic religions were suppressed, stolen from, and practitioners punished. Therefore, asking for the cultural atmosphere to be more inclusive is just creating what should have always been. It is righting a wrong.
If we’re going to be gathering around the table and partaking of a feast this holiday, I only offer these words as food for thought. It doesn’t bother me when people wish me a Merry Christmas, but it does get to me when it’s a completely unexamined ritual. I strive to live very consciously, and I get challenged on language and appropriation from time to time, which I accept with the full knowledge that I am always learning and growing and seeing things from a perspective other than my own. The holiday season is hard enough – if I know that my attempts at inclusivity have made even one person’s holiday season more bearable, I’ll sleep soundly. Maybe even with visions of sugar plums. Or maybe not.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, being a Survivor Mentor in the pilot survivor-to-survivor program through MPSSAS, co-facilitating instinct-unlocking workshops for women through I Got This, working as a host and community producer of Herstories on YourTV, volunteering with Women’s March Muskoka, and her role as a front-line counsellor at a women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development and also received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. Her dream is a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.