Happy December, everybody
Column by Elizabeth Geris Sacco
Columns, letters: email@example.com
A close female relative of mine has always been a dedicated sender of greeting cards, especially at Christmas. I remember as an 8-year-old watching her “hide” at the table in our citrus-themed kitchen, arduously whittling down a mountainous stack of individually hand-picked Christmas greetings until the paper Jenga got short enough to reveal her expression of razor-sharp concentration. Feeling a sense of putting the bulk of the task behind her, she would take a break, get up to stretch her legs and rest her eyes, only to return minutes later to render that stack of red and green mess into another stack of neatly sealed and addressed envelopes of her warm thoughts, just waiting to greet the eyes of her loved ones.
Always on that list of greetings is her doctor of thirty-plus years. One holiday season of recent, it occurred to me, as we spoke over the phone about our Christmas card list. “Isn’t your doctor Jewish?” The thunderbolt revelation seized me and filled my face with a blush of empathic embarrassment over what I overreacted to as a perceived faux pas. She paused a moment, and said, “Well, yes he is, but I always send him a Christmas card.” I hesitated a moment, carefully choosing my next words, since I thought I was about to give her a gentle lesson in politically correct greeting card choices. You should just buy a box of “Happy Holidays” cards, I gingerly explained, so you don’t alienate or offend those of a different faith.
Of course, I broke the culturally sensitive news to her with the best of intentions, just like anyone who learned why we say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” but it wasn’t before long that I started to hear people in my life gripe about “Happy Holidays” too. They would say, “It’s Christmas. Too bad if you’re offended by it. I don’t say ‘Happy Holidays.’” Not exactly a reciprocal wish harmonious with the soft backdrop of tidings of comfort and joy transmitted by 93.1, but then again I am no stranger to the right to be offended by anything in this country. The best part of it all – the first time I insulted someone with “Happy Holidays” was a confusing exchange for us both. Up until about 10 years ago, I thought saying this was just a lazy way of wishing someone a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. I had no idea that it was, in effect, my own way of hacking a chink in the armor of an already embattled Christian holiday, nor did I realize that shortening “Christmas” to “X-mas” was yet another way of hurling a sneaky punch to the foundation of sacred belief.
It seems you can’t go anywhere these days without someone wishing you a “Merry Christmas” or the unfairly wince-inducing “Happy Holidays,” and although I’m about as traditionally Christian, Jewish, or an observer of Boxing Day as I am 6 feet tall, I know that with the absence of sarcasm, sanctimony, or political agenda, the wish is meant to put a smile on my face, and God knows we can all use one of those. So, if I say “Happy Holidays” to you and you say “Merry Christmas” instead, just “take it and like it,” as my friend good-naturedly responded when corrected for her particular choice of holiday greeting. It all means the same thing – a wish of happiness as you sit in front of your Christmas tree, or light your Menorah with family and friends, or whatever it is that you look forward to this month. What’s so bad about that? I don’t know about you, but I hear other “greetings” all year long, usually accompanied with unmistakable hand gestures from fellow motorists in traffic that don’t exactly make me smile or wish me well. We need to stop sniggling over these details that answer one form of pettiness with another. After all, as I later learned when my relative recited a conversation she had with the Good Doctor about the whole Christmas card blunder, he appreciates that card every year he receives it and would miss it if it didn’t end up in his mailbox. More than that, it dawned on me that she didn’t dress me down for pointing out political correctness. She just gently showed me, by example, that it all means the same good wish.
Happy December, everybody.