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A rose by any other name is still a bigot. The following is an atheistic analysis of a potential, perhaps pernicious, side-effect of invoking wholesale the generalized, non-specific “Happy Holidays” for this season’s greetings.

Changing the marketing of Christmas to “Happy Holidays” or some such is the first major change since Coke-a-cola and the Santa Christmas became hegemonic. The idea is to make for a more inclusive environment, to make the holiday not exclusive to Christians. Unfortunately, we do ourselves a disservice. It does not, in fact, create a more inclusive environment. Instead, it only disguises the imposition of a Christian (traditionally) holiday (now Christian-Capital/Consumerist), drawing everyone into its web, regardless of belief. A truly inclusive space, I should think, would encourage everyone to wish one another every type of holiday.

While Happy Holidays seems too-often to secretly mean “welcome to my liar,” I’d rather hear Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Huzzah it’s Kwanza!, be wished well for Ramadan, or invited to partake in a joyous Diwali, etc., etc. Clearly I don’t even know the names of many other holidays because we are not encouraged to explore them, to come together in many ways, but rather to “integrate” and deny anything special publicly that we could in fact share.

I am not writing specifically in the defence of Christian Christmas. I am as happy to have a secularized Christmas as the next person. Rather, I am concerned by the trend of confusing what it means to separate Church and State and invoke freedom of religion. Idealistically, democracy requires open and transparent operation, unfettered by excessive smoke-screens of rhetoric and the capacity for political sleight-of-hand. By refusing to call Christmas out by its rightful name threatens to allow it to go unnoticed that we have actual laws written-in to protect a Christian Holiday, that we, particularly we North Americans, completely orient the operation, form, and activities of our society, culturally and economically (in the case of economics, Christmas is a key factor in many business models) for most of an entire month, in some cases longer. Nobody closes up shop on Sundays anymore but we don’t think anything of the fact that Christmas, like Easter, is a stat. holiday. We unthinkingly accept the right to not work or do business on Christmas in most cases. The same can not always be said when minorities request the same right to have the time needed to observe their important holidays.

The disturbing thing is more the general trend of lying, of hiding, and isolating our views instead of creating a space where they can be discussed, shared, argued, accepted, tolerated, embraced. In the lead-up to the election of US president-elect Donald Trump, I heard a statistic on a CBC program describing an alarming percentile (somewhere in the mid-to-high seventies, if I am remembering correctly) of college (university, to us Canuks) students simply did not engage in discussion with those who held opposing views to their own. I cannot state the horror this particular demographic’s failure to communicate should instill in those with a stake in their country’s social future. And one cannot simply scapegoat the feedback effects of social media, though it is a factor. I imagine the Canadian statistic, in this case, is not too far-off the American one.

Placing the handle of “Happy Holidays” over a Christmas practice fuses and integrates Church and state – or, in terminology more relevant to our times, promotes the cultural hegemony of the mainstream through institutionalized discrimination. A hierarchy is supported in which a suzerain power structure retains its hold in the style of a cabal; the “old-stock,” WASP culture and freedom of religion, they are not even stated as separately identifiable things. I know a Russian Orthodox Jew; her absolute favourite holiday is Christmas. She knows it is a “Christian” holiday, but the way we celebrate it is beautiful to her. It is something she can embrace without threatening her Judaism. I think that’s wonderful and we should all be so lucky as to do that, only with a much more diverse palate for cultural celebrations. However, she can only do this in a way that allows her the enjoyment of the holiday without threatening the integrity of her religious beliefs because she knows, explicitly, what Christmas represents; its origins, which parts intrinsically align with her beliefs, which parts are just the sheer ruddy joy of consumerist hedonism, along with those aspects she personally will choose to not involve in her celebration of a holiday rooted in a religion that is not her own.

Nobody should be fooled by the feint except those looking to feather their cap. I realize Christmas isn’t very religious for most people and I understand the appeal to some of the totally non-threatening, politically-correct, denomination-non-specific wording of “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” I actually don’t have a problem with people using these phrases; I use them myself, frequently, to wish-well unto others generally during this season – but never as a by-word for Christmas when I honestly am thinking of my own holiday. It is not the trivial wording substitute itself but the larger trends it represents that is a threat to the freedom of religion, of expression, of identity – not for Christians, not in the slightest for Christians, it is in all but name a guarantee for Christians. The fundamentalists should rejoice! – but for everyone else. It is dangerous. It is dangerous because it represents a backsliding of our so-called values. Our values are “so-called” and backslide when freedom of religion means freedom-to-believe-whatever-you-want-so-long-as-you-don’t-tell-anybody-and-don’t-show-it-off. This isn’t the Sochi Olympics, were it was acceptable to be homosexual so long as you refrained from promulgating “homosexual propaganda” (examples of “homosexual propaganda” at the Sochi Olympics including: stating your homosexuality while at the Olympics, or generally being openly gay and openly good at sports at the same time). Instead, we should seek a social norm that promotes the open expression of religious or non-religious cultural practices equally, in a transparent and accountable form, rather than secretly imposing the practices of the traditional social center over all citizens.

Salaam, and Merry Christmas.

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