'Happy holidays' deserves a place now more than ever

President Donald Trump and members of his base are fond of claiming they “brought back Christmas.” This statement is based on their shared resentment of those who use the greeting “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” Such an absurd belief that Christmas needed rescuing by an often angry and hostile president is so ridiculous it is best ignored.

However, statistics demonstrate recent evidence of increased incidents of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. As the holiday shopping season officially kicks off this Black Friday, it is important to understand why many businesses have encouraged employees to extend holiday greetings to customers and clients in a nonsectarian manner.

Last year as I paid for my purchase at one of my favorite shops for women’s clothing, a sales woman complained to me, “I’m so sorry I can’t gift wrap this in Christmas paper for you. Corporate orders are that we can’t even play Christmas carols in the store.” I told her it was perfectly fine; the white and silver paper she was using was beautiful and that the recipient of the gift would love it. She then went on to tell me (unsolicited), “I can’t understand these corporations. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.”

Perhaps she was hoping to engage me in conversation, but I was so surprised by her words, I was speechless. Perhaps she has an entirely Christian circle of friends. Perhaps she has never met a Muslim, Jew, Hindi or atheist. Maybe she assumed I also know only Christians. Maybe she was simply having a bad day and wanted to vent to someone. There was no hatred in her words, but I could sense her frustration and a desire to evangelize, sharing her faith.

The more I thought about her, the more I began to understand some Trump voters. This was not a mean-spirited person. Yet I can easily see that she would nod in approval of a president promising to “bring back Christmas.” Ironically, a holiday extending “tidings of comfort and joy” has become a political hot topic creating a perceived “Us vs. Them” conflict.

Growing up in a community of Christians and Jews, my friends and I were taught tolerance by our parents and schoolteachers. In French class, we learned to sing Christmas carols such as “Un Flambeau Jeannette Isabella.” Our high school’s concert choir performed Handel’s “Messiah.” We read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” We were exposed to the richness of diverse cultures. The local firehouse had both a Nativity scene and star of David on display every December. The grand Baltimore department stores — Hutzler’s, Hecht Company, Hochschild-Kohn and Stewart’s — had glorious window displays each year downtown at the famous corners of Howard and Lexington Streets. Paper shopping bags had a variety of phrases: “Season’s Greetings” was the most familiar. There was always an attempt at inclusion in the Baltimore of my youth as well as my adulthood.

Perhaps the addition of world holidays to calendars contributed to the imagined notion that “Christmas had been taken away.” I remember the year school calendars brought home by my daughter and son had added holidays such as Ramadan, Diwali and Kwanzaa. Never did I feel that by acknowledging additional holidays Christmas had been somehow diminished. True inclusion invites multiple communities; all are welcomed.

Remaining sensitive to the preferences of others isn’t political correctness; it is polite civility. If you are an employee whose company has policies on everything from holiday phraseology to the amount of time for lunch break, that’s the reality of the working world. While on the job, if you are asked to say, “happy holidays,” you can wish people a “merry Christmas” to your heart’s content on your own time. There are sacrifices and compromises that go with the territory for all of us working as part of the nation’s labor force.

A far greater threat to the true message of Christmas is a leader with such hate in his heart that he tosses off as a matter of daily behaviors, words such as, “loser,” “lowlife,” “animals,” and “scum” during a season of peace on earth and goodwill to all. All the merry Christmas wishes in the world cannot undo that level of contempt.

Carolyn Buck (bucklaz@aol.com) is a local writer and performing arts educator.

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