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I say, “Merry Christmas!” and that is not wrong

November 27, 2009

Ooof.  That was one of the best Thanksgiving holidays ever.  Truly.

Good company, good food, good wine, good conversation, good music, a warm, dry house to enjoy it all in, candles everywhere. 

We are blessed.

And now all eyes are on Christmas.  Or some other non-descript, white-washed, diluted, non-denominational, event sort of celebrated in December.

What?

I celebrate Christmas.  And Solstice.  I am a more spiritual person than I am a religous one, and I pay deep attention to the changing cycles of the earth spinning around the sun.

And if I wish you a Merry Christmas, it is not meant to exclude anything you might celebrate instead of or in addition to Christmas – it is simply meant to convey wishes for peace and goodwill, love and laughter, to you and yours in this dark time of the year.

Why don’t I just say, “Happy Holidays,” then?  Sometimes I do. 

But the point I am making is that it is not wrong to say, “Merry Christmas,” even if the other person doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

Years ago, I hosted a Solstice party, inviting dozens of people, filling the house with candles and good food, making a welcome space for conversation and schmoozing and snacking.

All night, I had greeted guests with, “Happy Solstice.”  The one person I saluted with a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” is Jewish.  He grinned, rebutted with “Shalom… and Happy Solstice!” as I realised what I had said, and we laughed together. 

I do believe in the power of words, and the importance of being specific and inclusive.  At the same time, when the intent is joyous, peaceful, and neighbourly, I do not believe the words can be wrong.

On another note, I do think there is a right time to celebrate Christmas.  For some of you, Christmas celebrations have already started: I know a family who opens the season by playing Christmas carols as they do the Thanksgiving dinner dishes.  Then there are the poor bastards in retail who start Christmas when they put away the Hallowe’en decorations.

NOT ME.

Christmas starts on 1 December in our house with a very slow ramp-up to the big day.  I don’t want to be tired of Christmas carols before we even get to Christmas Eve.

Then, there are twelve days to Christmas.  Yes, this harkens back to my Catholic upbringing, and the coming of the three wise guys on Epiphany (6 January).  But more than that, extending the celebration of Christmas protects us from that horrid anti-climax so many folks feel by noon on Christmas day.

In Canada (and Britain), Boxing Day was traditionally the day for visiting: you stayed home with your family on Christmas Day, and then went visiting on Boxing Day.  I like to continue that visiting tradition right through to New Year’s Day (at least), when folks are a lot more relaxed than in the days leading up to Christmas proper.

This time of year, the days are each shorter and darker than the one before.  Even after the Solstice is officially passed, and we have survived the darkest, longest night, it will take a few weeks for us to start noticing the ever-so-slightly longer days.  We can brighten this time for and with each other by sharing the best of ourselves: a story, a helping hand, a hearty laugh, a warm embrace, a meal shared.

I was going to share some favourite Christmas movies and activities today (as promised).  But I see that I’ve been looking at the fog in the valley again, and thinking deep thoughts: this post is long enough.

Look for another installment of ninja facts tomorrow, and holiday stuff on Sunday. 

 

listening to:  Vienna Teng, Harbor

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dr. Kim permalink
    November 29, 2009 7:25 pm

    Like many people, this season finds me with a mixture of feelings. My mom died shortly after christmas 11 years ago and so I have some melancholy. But the little girl inside of me who obediently sat on Santa’s lap, performed in the church choir, and tried to stay up late on Christmas eve to see which reindeer Santa was flying with each year, awakens and fills my heart with wonder. I am a total sucker for the entire package including the excess in all things. I start listening to christmas music on Thanksgiving. I start watching all of the Christmas videos I have collected throughout the years ranging from Charlie Brown to Polar Express. I find myself grinning for no apparent reason. I actually look forward to partaking in a little fruitcake. Oh, and a small part of me (ok let’s be honest, a big part of me) hopes to be lucky enough to see which reindeer Santa is flying with this year.

  2. catherine permalink
    November 30, 2009 7:27 am

    From anyone else a “defending/let’s save capital-C Christmas” post would be grating. I know that you are a skilled and thoughtful communicator who puts effort into doing the right thing, and will use the right language for the situation because you want to and think about it and spend time and effort on what you send out to the world.

    Lots of times when I think about how to treat others, I am reminded of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you (or for pagan sisters, do as you will and harm none). I would be delighted to be included in Chanukah and Eid and Kwanza by way of getting greetings with folks who celebrate those traditions. But can I ‘put myself in the other persons shoes’ and assume that they feel the same way? As I wake up to my own privilege (an ongoing process) I can see more and more that being a member of the dominant (sometimes domineering) culture means that I will always have access to the things that are familiar to me, and I have the privilege to ‘take a vacation’ to more exotic/different/ alternative/ marginalized traditions and still return to the familiar. Eid might be fascinating, engaging, and colourful to you even though you might not celebrate it yourself; ‘Christmas’ as experienced in North America might be gaudy, loud, never-ending, and inescapable to folks that don’t identify with it.

    I think the reason for inclusive/non-specific greetings is to acknowledge that Christmas is part of the dominant culture that doesn’t include everyone. The problem is in assuming that everyone does or should celebrate Christmas (which I know you don’t assume), or assuming that everyone wants to share in your traditions the way you would share in theirs.

    There is a general backlash against PC language that seems to be born out of entitlement (again, not you here, I just see that the ‘I hate PC’ and ‘Let’s save Christmas’ crowd seem to have some overlap.) “It doesn’t matter what you say if you have a good intention.” Good intentions matter, but what you say also matters. Ask me one day about the Jamaican bobsled team from Ontario and I’ll tell you why this has been on my mind.

  3. Jet permalink*
    November 30, 2009 9:24 am

    Kim – there are times when I know that the four-year-old in me is guiding my wishes and dreams – Christmas is one of those times. I know that smile you speak of – I share it. I think it is a big part of what lights up this dark time of year: the candles and the lights on the trees and houses are lovely, but it is the light from within each of us that truly warms our hearts and helps us make it through the dark.

    Catherine – I agree completely with (what I think is) your main point – good intentions matter, but what you say also matters. Words are powerful, words matter, and I do (mostly) choose mine carefully.

    I’m glad that you understood that my intention was not to push my celebration on anyone else. My larger point was not that everyone or anyone should celebrate Christmas, or even celebrate my way, but that people should not be punished or denigrated for saying Merry Christmas, especially if their intention is to share something good and generous.

    I do not think we are served by white-washing or diluting cultural traditions down to a sterile common denominator. As you suggest, there may be exotic, colourful, wonderful traditions to explore, from many other cultures and celebrations. I believe we benefit from this being an additive process. (And I find Christmas as experienced in North America gaudy, loud, never-ending, inescapable – hence the SLOW ramp up in my home. Our focus is on candles, cookies, and company.)

    You have taught me much with your sensitivity and thoughtful perspective to what is normative and/or prescriptive in what we say, often without even realising it. I am grateful for this, and for the ongoing conversation. Let’s talk bobsleds soon.

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