Friday, December 16, 2011

Merry Christmas or Should I Say Happy Holidays?

I will be celebrating my fourth Christmas in Malaysia soon. I have been asked by family and friends many times, if it is the same celebrating Christmas in a tropical country. I usually answer "not much, except for the temperature". Recently I have been thinking of the differences and I will try to explain them to everyone back in the US.

The most obvious difference is the weather. I grew up in Watertown, NY where there was usually snow and cold temperatures for Christmas. I lived and worked for many years in Boston, where there is also a lot of snow and cold temperatures, but not as cold and snowy as in Watertown. Here in Penang, Malaysia, the Christmas season has sunshine, temperatures in the 90's and fairly high humidity. Some may think that this is the biggest difference, but it's not. I would say the biggest difference is one of attitude and tolerance.

I grew up as a Roman Catholic in Watertown, a small city in upstate New York. I would say that this area is very predominantly Christian, as is the rest of the USA. I can remember going Christmas shopping downtown and the few malls that were there at the time. It was a good feeling, hearing the Christmas Carols as you shopped and seeing all of the decorations and  greetings of "Merry Christmas" in the stores, in the streets and on peoples' houses. There was a nativity scene in Public Square in the downtown area of the city. You wished everyone you met a Merry Christmas and they wished you Merry Christmas in return. I shared these greetings with everybody, including my Jewish friends. Well that doesn't happen any more. No I am not talking about Malaysia. I am talking about the US.

In the years after I left college and my home town the celebration of Christmas changed. I do not consider myself a religious person, but I do know what Christmas is. Christmas is the holiday which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It has been traditionally celebrated on December 25th, since the middles ages, in Europe. As European Christians spread to to North and South America and even Asia, this tradition followed them. Each country's culture celebrates Christmas in a different way, with different customs and food. My family was no different. We had our own traditions, with Tom and Jerry's, made by my father, to drink and moms homemade cranberry sauce for dinner. Now my brother Pete makes the Tom and Jerry's for the family. The tradition continues.

By the time I got to Boston, the country began to change. I worked in a Jewish hospital and saw Christmas turn into "the Holidays". The hospital and department Christmas party became a "Holiday Party", even after the hospital was no longer Jewish affiliated. Even wishing a person Merry Christmas was frowned upon. Sadly people who were raised in a Christian family and were in positions of leadership strongly and spinelessly discouraged using the word Christmas. The more you shopped in the malls during Christmas, the less you saw the word, Christmas.

Is this just political correctness gone astray or just complete stupidity and ignorance? I think the latter. I remember in the hospital you could still wish your Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah, but you were discouraged from wishing your other friends a Merry Christmas. Christmas trees became holiday trees, Christmas parties became holiday parties, Christmas vacation became a holiday vacation, Christmas cookies became holiday cookies and Christmas presents became holiday presents! What a crock of dung! I suppose next Jesus Christ will become Jesus Holiday!  This country was founded on religious freedom and tolerance, and what is happening with Christmas is totally out of step with what our country stands for.  Many Americans fought and died for the right of people to practice their religion and to celebrate their cultures and traditions. This country is made up of people from every religion and from every country of the world. Their customs and traditions are what make this country a great, diverse and tolerant country. Who the hell are these people telling us we can't celebrate a holiday the way our families have done for generations?

Reasons given for changing "Christmas" to "the Holiday Season" are that saying "Merry Christmas" may offend someone or that saying "Happy Holidays" is more inclusive.  How can a greeting which imparts nothing but kindness, goodwill and happiness offend someone? How can wishing that someone have the same happiness and joy that you have, not be inclusive?  Here in Malaysia, which is a predominantly Muslim country, Hari Raya, Christmas, Chinese New Year and Deepavali are celebrated by everyone, regardless of race or religion. It's is part of the culture and no one is offended. Being forced to say Happy Holidays, during my Christmas holidays is like a bride and groom sending out xeroxed thank you notes for their wedding gifts. Insensitive, thoughtless, ignorant and selfish.

Cinqo de Mayo, Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Hari Raya, Valentine's Day, Halloween and any other religious or ethnic tradition that may offend you.

So in the meantime, I would like to wish all of my friends and family and all of my followers here a very Merry Christmas. If I have indeed offended anyone, I sincerely and honestly don't really give a damn. Spend your next Holiday Vacation in North Korea.

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