I was behind a woman in a checkout line recently when she said to the sales associate, “Thank you for saying ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Some people seem to think that when one doesn’t use the “Merry Christmas” greeting one fails to acknowledge the meaning of the Christmas season, that Jesus Christ is the focus of the holiday.
What those critics don’t acknowledge is that the United States – and increasingly so in Mississippi – is a melting pot of people from around the world, and many of them celebrate other religious or cultural holidays in December. They, too, are deserving of acknowledgement and respect.
When I left Mississippi after high school for the University of Pennsylvania my only first-hand contact with people of religions other than my own Baptist faith was Methodists, Pentecostals and members of the Church of Christ.
When I learned that Penn’s calendar included Jewish religious holidays, I decided to take a class my second semester called Comparative Religions. Every student was required at some time during the semester to attend religious services of at least three faiths not their own, write a paper about them, and participate in discussions of various faiths in class.
This experience, perhaps more than any other, taught me the value of education: learning to listen and understand – even empathize – with others even when I don’t agree with their perspective.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Student Affairs Office has a list of 48 international holidays for December 2012. A University of Kansas diversity calendar lists 10 of those same December 2012 holidays celebrated by their students from different cultural and religious traditions around the world:
• Dec. 5: Ashura (An Islamic or Muslim holiday)
• Dec. 6: St. Nicholas Day (The international celebration similar to Christmas)
• Dec. 8: Bodhhi Day (The Buddhist Day of Enlightenment)
• Dec. 8-16: Hannukkah (The Jewish Festival of Lights)
• Dec. 12: Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico’s most important religious holiday)
• Dec.r 13: Santa Lucia Day (Sweden’s day to honor a young Christian martyr)
• Dec. 16-25: Las Posadas (A nine-day Mexican festival that commemorates the search for shelter by Mary and Joseph)
• Dec. 25: Christmas (The international Christian holiday)
• Dec. 26: Boxing Day (A holiday in Great Britain and Canada when food, clothing or money from local churches is given to the poor or needy)
• Dec. 26-January 1: Kwanzaa (A week-long celebration of African American culture and heritage)
So, for anyone who is offended by those of us who choose to say “Happy Holidays” and not always “Merry Christmas,” try to cut us some slack, hold your peace, and know you are practicing your Christian faith by not passing judgment on others.
Happy Holidays. Merry Christmas.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.