How Not to Be a Holiday Chauvinist

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Interfaith Holiday Card

The end-of-year holidays are full of food, fun, and festivity for many. They needn’t also be full of religious bullying.

There’s a social-media meme floating around this holiday season suggesting that no matter what festive greeting someone wishes you–and no matter what religious or non-religious persuasion you are–just say, “Thank you, you too!”  The diagram-based meme goes on to tell people to use whatever greeting they desire, and accuses anyone who thinks differently of being “broken” and not a “good human” for understanding the global intent behind the words.

Ironically, the message is holiday chauvinism of the highest sort, for a variety of reasons:

  • Because beyond Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the end of the year is only the holiday season for some.
  • Because some people wear religious garb that clearly identifies what holidays they do or do not celebrate.
  • Because the religiously observant of a faith other than yours may find your greeting disrespectful, aggressive, or proselytizing.
  • Because you can’t assume good intent–some people may very well be mis-aiming the wrong holiday greeting at you on purpose, to grind a personal religious–or even political–axe.
  • Most of all, because generally we ought not go through life assuming that everyone else is the same as we are, nor should we bully others into accepting being treated as if we are all the same.

Just because one person isn’t offended by an ill-aimed holiday greeting doesn’t mean everyone isn’t offended. And it certainly doesn’t mean anyone shouldn’t take offense, either. It’s easy to see how some secular or non-observant-of-their-faith-of-choice folks might not care about any of this. But it’s equally easy to see how a great many people might take offense. Especially those people who clearly do not share the faith of the given holiday.

For example, I wear a yarmulke full-time. The only times anyone will see me with a bare head are when I get up in the morning, or getting out of the shower. And that’s only one person. And he already knows I’m Jewish. So telling me Merry Christmas just tells me specifically that you’re either ignorant about other faiths, too brain-lazy to choose your words with me, or trying to make the point that the whole world should be treated within the same bubble that you live in as a Christian.

All of which, in a multi-faith nation, is gratuitously disrespectful of others. When you “Merry Christmas” the entire world without thinking, what you’re really telling people is that you don’t care about anyone else’s religion or religious holidays but your own. And I assure you, people remember when you do this. It sticks in the mind, and it colors how others think of you.

After all, isn’t that what happens in your mind when you feel disrespected by others?

God invented Google for a reason. It takes mere seconds to pull out your phone and learn whether Chanukah, either Eid, or anything else is coming up or long past, and mere seconds more to Google the appropriate greeting.

And before the deluge, know that every New Yorker has to sit down and think, “Exactly what does my friend celebrate, if anything,” before opening their mouth or sending a holiday card or holiday email. And if 8 million people in my hometown can pull this off, so can you.

So first of all, know better. And once you know better, greet better. if you see a cross, yarmulke, hijab, turban, or anything else outside of your ken or comfort zone, for the sake of respect of the other good human beings with whom you share the planet, adjust your greeting accordingly–or maybe just skip it.

And if nothing else, there’s always “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” The marketing industry invented them for a reason.

This one, in fact.

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