In America, and in Anchorage, we celebrate diversity. We take pride in knowing that people from all over the world live among us. Our cultural diversity can be seen in holiday celebrations, festivities, and traditions. An inclusive, multicultural future is undoubtedly on the horizon. America is full of people who are eager to foster inclusion and adapt to our growingly diverse community. This is why we routinely hear people say, “Happy Holidays” during this time of the year.
Why folks are saying “Happy Holidays” and Why that Matters
Wishing each other a “happy holiday” season is about spreading love, joy, and happiness. The power of those two words is the unspoken recognition of a need to embrace change. The beauty of the statement is that no cultural celebration or holiday tradition is invalidated, but instead acknowledged. Unlike “Merry Christmas”, so many more people can find a sense of belonging in “Happy Holidays.” People can see themselves in “Happy Holidays”, including those who celebrate Christmas.
In our diverse community, we know that not everybody celebrates Christmas, just as we know not all folks celebrate Ramadan. Therefore, we chose to adopt more inclusive language, except the folks who feel that Christmas is under attack. For non-Christian folks, it must be quite tiring to have to constantly explain why they choose not to celebrate Christmas. It’s these little comments that show somebody they don’t truly belong; some might call this a microaggression. I imagine they also tend to educate the questioner about their holiday, even though I doubt any Christmas celebrators often find themselves explaining Christmas. Americans learn about Christmas from an early age and all throughout our nation it is clearly the most visible winter holiday. These are the reasons why saying, “Happy Holidays” is a small, but inclusive, step forward.
There is No War on Christmas
A happy Winter season is not one devoid of Christmas, or any other holiday tradition. Some efforts to be inclusive may inadvertently create more divisiveness; we all too often hear people complain about “political correctness”. Nobody ever declared war on Christmas, but in confusion, many folks began to perceive there to be one. America has traditionally allocated season to Christmas. This instilled a sense of entitlement to the time of the year, which is why giving space to other holidays feels like an attack. Every year efforts are made to challenge the status quo and recognize diversity, while at the same time, navigating the taxing effort to keep Christmas celebrators feeling included. If it was a competition, which it is NOT, one might think that Christmas is still in the lead. Many people get that day off from work and school schedules are conveniently constructed around this season.
Some well-intended efforts to be inclusive are counterproductive. We adapted to having a “Happy Holiday” cup, but it seems to still need a background of red and green. It’s a very limited attempt at being inclusive. Renaming a Christmas tree, a “Holiday Tree”, does not change what the tree symbolizes. I do understand why and how this happened, but I think we should reconsider why we say, “Holiday Tree”. I don’t think there was an intentional effort to make all cultures celebrate their holidays with a tree but I worry that is the impact. Many holidays occur during the Winter season, but only Christmas traditionally has a tree. This “melting pot” approach to winter holidays moves us away from a meaningful inclusion. People who don’t celebrate Christmas are not buying Holiday Trees. If people want a Christmas tree, they should get a Christmas tree. If we want to be truly inclusive during this time of the year, we may need to first learn about other holidays and then celebrate in an appropriate way.
Fostering Meaningful Inclusion
A truly inclusive holiday season is one where Christmas is celebrated, AND all other folks see an equal level of celebration for their holidays. Americans want to foster inclusion and people are courageously embracing change. So, this season we should wish people a “Happy Holiday”. If you know of a specific holiday they celebrate, use their respective greeting. Refrain from marking everything green and red. Don’t just change the names of Christmas traditions to make them inclusive. We don’t want to undermine our efforts to be inclusive by making our surroundings still feel like Christmas. Remember to demonstrate the very values that the “holiday season” is meant to produce: love, care, and belonging. Then, we can extend our holiday cheer throughout the year to foster meaningful inclusion among our diverse community. We’ll share our thoughts on that process in the coming weeks.