Thursday, December 6, 2012

Merry Christmas... or invisible entitlement

Every year around the start of December you can be assured of two things, people railing about "keeping Christ in Christmas" and people harping about folks who say "Happy Holiday's", or "Seasons Greeting's" in lieu of "Merry Christmas". The former has been gone over with a fine toothed comb, while the later seems to be becoming more pronounced. They are certainly linked phenomena, and can trace their origins to the same sort of paranoid, god fearing types I write about around October 31st. The problem, as I see it anyway, is that one tends more to the overt and the other, the tacit. What's more, "non-Christians", or white Americans/Canadians who do not see themselves as Christians, are more often than not the ones who are now complaining about "Happy Holidays". It is this issue I would like to address, as I believe it is a very good, and topical, example of invisible privilege, specifically the pervasiveness of cultural Christianity.

A friend of mine posted this photo on her facebook, and the comments below were precisely what you would expect.

At work are two different but ultimately related perspectives; Christian as default setting and xenophobia. In this case, being this specific car decal, I tend to see the xenophobia more so than the Christian as default, but they play into each other so well that it can be difficult to separate them out.

The "Welcome To Canada" line, implies that it is a message to those who have not been in this country for very long, and so the logical conclusion is that the message is directed to recent immigrants. Recent immigrants who are more often than not (at least in the eyes of the car owner) non-Christian. Recent immigrants who in the eyes of the car owner are the reason that people say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings", because of their desire to overthrow the established traditions and force their own religious/cultural traditions on the "rest of us", or you know have the audacity to have their Charter rights respected. After all, it isn't a conscious decision on others to acknowledge that there are a bevy of holidays celebrated over a wide swath of a given month, and that not everyone celebrates for the same reason you do. Nope, it is PC thugism run amok, and poor persecuted Christmas.

The last refuge of an outlawed holiday

Poor persecuted Christmas which is still an official government holiday, which does not allow retail business to be open unless in specific tourist areas, which used to be a single day of December, but has now devoured the entire month, and in some areas noticeable swaths of November as well. Christmas, whose symbolism and cultural accoutrement's are unavoidable, whose music is played non stop for a month on dedicated radio channels, whose related films and specials permeate the teevee. Whose more commercial deity can be found in ads, on street corners, and in malls of every size. This holiday, truly, is on its last legs and this unrelenting PC assault upon it will destroy one of the last, great north American traditions. This is afterall "their" country, and so people should be adopting "their" culture and beliefs. If they don't like it, they can leave; the Charter be damned.

There is something else, though, something which folks who whine don't know about, but really ought to. The origins of "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings", have nothing to do with any attempt to down play Christmas, or even in the spirit of inclusiveness. They are rooted in streamlining the mouthful, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year", into something a little more wieldly, and easily printable. Yeah, so it turns out that New Years is something like 6 days after Christmas, or so I am told, and so for the sake of convenience (and having NOTHING to do with taking Christ out of Christmas), these phrases started popping up in cards and print around the 1920's. And everyone knows what a tolerant and inclusive time that was...

So I've covered the misinformation and stupidity of the xenophobic angle, how about the religious one? What is often surprising about this, as I mentioned before, is that people who do not consider themselves Christian, are still the ones getting their stockings in a bunch over the "rampant accommodation and erosion of our traditions". "I'm not a Christian, but I still say Merry Christmas", "So what if you aren't a Christian and someone wishes you a Merry Christmas? Why would that offend you?", "How dare you be offended if I say Merry Christmas to you"", and so on.  Well, for one, I think the entire "offended at Merry Christmas" is just a tad overblown, and people are seeing offence where there really is none; or where a single anecdote transforms into every encounter, forever. The "why?" though, the puzzlement which accompanies these sentiments is at the heart of the matter. Privilege, entitlement, hegemony, default, are all words which explain the why. Why people who have adopted this attitude do not understand why or how someone could be less than happy about being wished a Merry Christmas. They have never been the outsider, have never been the minority, have never had someone else's traditions and beliefs assailing them, unendingly, for months, if not forever. Or if they have been, they consider themselves exceptions to the rule.

As someone who has a perhaps higher than average interest in things religious, it never ceases to amaze me just how Christian "not really a Christian"'s are, and how much of their beliefs, customs and language is never the less deeply rooted in Christianity. It is not necessarily their fault, being the default religious setting for a thousand or so years can have that effect on a culture, let alone one where the population remains 70% Christian. Nor do they understand how people who do not, either through different cultural traditions, different religious instruction, different upbringings or a penchant for inclucivity, could want to have some validation or at least tolerance thrown their way.

Don't get me wrong either, I do celebrate Christmas, despite not being a Christian, nor being raised a Christian. I wrote about it the last two years running, here (which is a tad sentimental), and here (which is a tad jaded). I just understand the issue of seeking to be more inclusive, of knowing the origins of the phrasing, and the ability to see the invisible privilege so many are simply blind to. Frankly, I tend to say Joyous Yuletide more than anything else, and that tends to be greeted with more blank stares and puzzled looks than anything else, despite (or perhaps due to) its antiquity. I say Merry Christmas when appropriate, I say Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings when in doubt.

I've never gotten offended by someone telling me "Merry Christmas", but I do get irritated when people complain that they "aren't allowed to say it anymmore", aside from the blatant display of entitlement, it simply isn't true.

Joyous Yuletide Folks!

photographic credit: "Lowes Christmas Market"


  1. Thank you! I've been seeing this a lot this year as well.

  2. Great post, Gorm! If anything, I see way more folks getting pissy about someone like me saying "Happy Holidays" than someone saying "Merry Christmas". Granted, I am just a wee bit North of you, so a tad more WASP.