It can be difficult to mix and match cultural, religious, and personal preferences during this December time of year when holiday traditions abound, especially in this Western part of the world where the majority of people with religious beliefs follow the Jewish and Christian belief systems. For those who are not religious, the secular society is also very attached to the Christmas season for its ideas of peace, magic, generosity, and family. Who can argue that a sense of magic and an unusual beauty exist this time of year, especially amidst all of the holiday lights strung over homes and throughout the public areas of cities, lighting our world in a way that just doesn’t happen other times of the year?
Certainly there are some who remain unmoved by the aesthetic qualities of the Christmas season, and others who could argue that reindeer, Santa Claus, penguin, snow globe, candy cane, and elf lawn decorations are unusually annoying, but that is their right and they can decide not to love holiday living as they wish. We all have our reasons for either loving, hating, or remaining indifferent to the holidays.
It can be an especially sensitive time of year, especially given the confusion over what to actually say to people this time of year; with more acceptance and sensitivity in society toward religious and cultural differences–which is a very good thing–it can be easy to get tripped up in deciding if “Have a Merry Christmas” (a definite Western tradition) is okay to say when thanking a cashier or postal carrier or chatting with a coworker, neighbor, or anyone really, or if they might fall more into the “Happy Hannukah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Happy Yule,” or the non-religious or even non-holiday categories. We don’t want to inflict any offense on others and risk feeling rude and ignorant, or risk an evil eye in response that takes away a little of our own holiday cheer. So, very often, “Have a happy holiday!” suffices if we choose anything at all. It’s safe call.
The key words to the holiday greetings are happy and merry and peaceful. Whatever your beliefs or traditions are, whether you are a holiday practitioner or spend the day (and the season, roughly most of December) as any other, the wishes are for you to be happy, be merry, have peace. Go out of this year with a positive sense of life, and go into the upcoming year with that same positive sense.
This year marks the first Christmas/holiday/merry-peaceful season I am sharing with my family and my husband. We married in late January of this year, well after the menorahs, midnight Masses in Catholic churches, hymnals about the birth of Jesus Christ, yule logs, reindeer, Santa, wrapping paper, and cups full with eggnog had come and gone. Although I haven’t celebrated Christmas from a Christian perspective for many, many years (a perspective I still highly respect), my husband has never celebrated Christmas from this or any perspective. He hails from the Holy Lands–Jerusalem his place of birth–and so also has a compassionate respect for not only his faith of origin, Islam, but other faiths as well, especially the two other monotheistic religions of the Western world, Christianity and Judaism. He also knows of Papa Noel–the name for Santa Claus in the the Arabic culture–but not so much of the Grinch or of “going buckwild” (one of his favorite expressions) with the gift tradition.
He seemed a little nervous at first, and I felt a little nervous as well in not wanting him to be nervous. I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to convert him into any buckwild holiday traditions that have been a consistent part of my life. I love gift-giving, and Christmas lights, and the religious Christmas music that has resonated with me emotionally since I was a child, and the otherworldliness of an evergreen tree (real or artificial) all lit up within your living area. I love the decorations overtaking homes and shopping centers and whole cities, and the holiday packaging on foods and drinks. I never asked him to get into it, I only asked that he wouldn’t mind a tree in the living room, some stockings on the wall for my daughter and the gerbil, and my personal favorite of finding gifts for the children of the family and my parents.
Thankfully, the holidays have that type of peacefulness and magic about them that make it easy for most people to adapt to. Not only has it been fun for him, but he even got a little buckwild with the idea of gift-giving and so I’ve wound up with (already, since he’s not so much accustomed with waiting until the morning of the 25th) a holiday/Christmas/merry-peaceful/loving gift or two straight from him. And he seemed secretly thrilled that I had one for him. After all, it’s never about materialism or what a gift is, it’s about, simply, having fun with each other.
The holiday season begs us to have fun, happiness, peace, and love with each other, and you really can’t go wrong with that. When the season is difficult and hurtful because you’ve lost someone, or lost a relationship, or in general are feeling lonely or out of sorts or even disagreeable with so-called holiday cheer, it’s quite alright to avoid making a big deal of the season, but if you really want to there are many people willing to open their hearts, homes, and arms to others to ensure the true “reason for the season” is passed along to others as it should be.
Nothing has to be made too difficult in life, especially those things that are meant to convey a sense of happiness, merriness, peace, and all around positivity. Holidays are for being happy, something everyone deserves.
*Picture courtesy of California Indian Education. http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/community/christmas/2010/PeaceOnEarth.gif