“Merry Christmas”: A Story of Exclusion in our Multicultural Society

Every year, just after Halloween, I get this feeling of patient (and growing steadily less so as November becomes December) frustration.  I’ll have to endure yet another Christmas period.  Bah humbug, etc.

I was raised Jewish.  When I was little we used to go to the cinema as a family on Christmas Day because at that point it was the only day you could guarantee it would be pretty much empty.  Of course over time that tradition had to go, as more and more families decided on a Christmas Day cinema trip in a vain attempt to pretend their relatives weren’t in the same room with them.

But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that, apart from that little tradition while it lasted, Christmas was always just another day in my family.  Except that we knew better than to try to go shopping in the weeks before and after.  I was never really jealous of my Christmas-celebrating friends (especially because my best friend let me help her decorate her Christmas tree one year), and in fact I used to crow about how Hannukah was for eight whole days (and if we were lucky we’d get eight small gifts!) instead of the measly one day of Christmas presents.

And truthfully, I can see why everyone loves Christmas.  In fact, the feeling I get from getting together with family on Thanksgiving is probably exactly what people term “Christmas cheer”.  So I get it.

It’s just not my holiday.

In our ever-increasingly multicultural society I find it more and more unnecessary for all our lives to be ruled by the majority with their Christmas hype.  Celebrate Christmas, obviously, but stop assuming we all do, too.

And while you’re at it, let’s stop this vulgar consumerism, mmkay?

I don’t get (too) bitter about being forced to suffer through a holiday season (that gets ever-longer with the pre-Christmas sales, the Christmas sales, and the post-Christmas sales – and yes, its span is determined by these things) not of my tradition.  Telling me “Merry Christmas” won’t get you a slap in the face, not even a bitterly muttered “I don’t celebrate it” – I’ll probably just smile politely and move on.

But in that exchange, I’m confronted by the exclusion of Christmas.

So no, I’m not Christian and neither are about a quarter of the population in the UK, as described in the 2001 Census Report on religious beliefs in Britain.  In fact, there was a report recently, reported today in the Guardian, where in a representative sample only 42% of Britains identified themselves as Christian, and 51 “now say they have no religion.”  Statistics are by nature a flawed art, so we can take all of that with a pinch of salt.  But even if Christianity is becoming the minority, as that would imply, the celebration of Christmas seems to operate outside religious belief.  And that’s fine, too.

In a lot of ways I liken it to the fact that, as I said before, I celebrate Thanksgiving.  I don’t celebrate what Thanksgiving originally stood for – mainly the ravaging of an indigenous population – but I celebrate what it stands for today: family, togetherness and eating lots of food.  So do a lot of my non-religious friends who love Christmas, and it makes sense.

There’s a reason we have a winter celebration.  It’s also the reason why Hannukah, originally a minor miracle celebration, has become the major holiday it is today.  This reason is:

It’s freaking cold, the sun went away and we don’t know if it’ll ever come back.

Our Western society is mainly spread across this zone of changing seasons, and when winter comes it can depress us and make us despair that there was ever warmth and light.  So we gather ’round, sing cheerful songs and feast like gluttons.  It makes us feel alive, and pushes back the encroaching darkness.  This is a good thing, and necessary.

However, when there are complaints at the “political correctness gone mad” of having to wish each other “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry/Happy Christmas” – I say: well shame on you.  Sure, political correctness can certainly go mad at times, and does, but this is not one of them.  Wishing each other to enjoy the winter-celebration-of-choice/lack thereof, instead of assuming one particular inclination, is being sensitive to the multiculturalism we find ourselves a part of.  By wishing Christmas cheer upon non-celebrants you’re confronting them with a message that excludes them from participating.  Even with the best of intentions, you’re creating a barrier between you and that person.

I think part of the problem is that of those people in the majority they don’t know what it’s like on the other side.

For those with little imagination, I give you a small vignette to that effect:

*

Let’s imagine a holiday:  Bumblefest.

Bumblefest comes on December 28th, and the whole world seems to be obsessed with it.  Even those who don’t subscribe to the beliefs of the Mighty Bumble.  Shops put up their Bumblefest decorations, the flashing strobelights that mark the Mighty Bumble’s coming, tangled string to imitate the Vile Web that the Mighty Bumble struggled to free Himself from.  Everywhere you go, people wish you a “Blessed Bumblefest.”

You might even like it for a while, as a naive child.  It’s sparkly and cheerful.  Then you’re a disillusioned teenager, and let’s face it – everything pisses you off.  And then as an adult, you’re needing to shop for your holiday presents, as Christmas (a little-know minority celebration) happens to occur mere days before Bumblefest madness.  Only you can’t do your shopping, and everything’s insane and you go a little mental.

Finally fighting the traffic, the queues that go one forever, it’s Christmas Eve and you’re almost done with shopping – and the woman behind the till smiles at you placidly and says, “I see someone’s getting their Bumblefest shopping a bit early – good for you!”  You grit your teeth and smile.

“Blessed Bumblefest!” she shouts after you.

Back in the street, Bumblers sing their Bumblefest tunes – twanging tunelessly with all the best intentions in the world.  You stride past them quickly, shopping bags swinging.

You celebrate Christmas Eve with your family, and someone turns on the television.  It’s the Bumblefest Special Variety Show.  Nothing else seems to be on, so it gets turned off again.

Christmas Day, more family fun.  You celebrate the way you always have, going to religious services where you can feel a part of a community where Bumblefest doesn’t even enter the equation.  For a little while, you feel peaceful.  And then it’s over.  But life doesn’t return to normal quite yet – Bumblefest is nearly here!  Or so the news reporters crow.

No, your life won’t be back to normal until not just after Bumblefest itself, but also the post-Bumblefest insanity.  For a whole month your life revolves around this holiday, just like last year, the year before and in fact every year since you can remember.  Winter loses its magical charm, because you know exactly what you’ll have to endure.

And it does make you a little angry, a little bitter.  And the next time someone wishes you a “Blessed Bumblefest” you have to restrain yourself from throwing things.

And in the end, you can’t even show your displeasure publicly, or to your Bumblefest-loving friends, for fear of being named a “Grumble Bumble”.

“Bzz, grumpits.”

*

Ok, so that’s fairly silly.  And might have been my way of blowing off steam and the frustration I’ve felt every winter since my turbulent adolescence.  But it doesn’t make the point any less valid.

So, I say to you: surely it’s better to err on the side of caution, being all-inclusive in an expression of “Happy Holidays” (because even the non-believers and those who choose not to celebrate during the festive period are living in a society where these holidays are present), than to choose to make the other person feel excluded, bitter and grumpy.  It is a choice.

When you fail to acknowledge the possibility that the person before you might not appreciate your assumption of a shared celebration, you’re failing to acknowledge one of the basic principles of humanity – that of individuality.  Political correctness isn’t just there to piss you off, it’s a concept there to enlighten the masses to the fact that yes, you might be offending someone by ignoring their difference of opinion.  Do you take the path of self-righteous offensiveness regardless?

What Would Jesus Do?!

I have it on good authority, that of a Master of Theological Studies, “that Jesus would totally be PC.”

And thus I say, wholeheartedly:  Happy Friday.

Bzz, grumpits.

2 responses to ““Merry Christmas”: A Story of Exclusion in our Multicultural Society

  1. To a non-Christian, Christmas can be a perplexing and tiresomely ubiquitous holiday. At the restaurant, the grocery store, the gas station, “Here Comes Santa Claus” is droning in my ears. It’s amusing / exasperating to see how much material and energy is consumed in decorating everything that stands still. One year, I went shopping for a Star of David necklace for one of the kids for Chanukah, only to be told by the clerk that “there aren’t any, it’s Christmas.” I just learned that the image of Santa with the suit and beard and round belly was actually invented by Coca-Cola in the 1930’s to sell Coke during the winter months. So even Santa himself is brought to you courtesy of American consumerism. For what it’s worth, many Christians are as unhappy with the rampant Christmas phenomenon as you and I are. Where would Jesus shop? He’d probably take his money straight to the local charity, and wish everyone “Peace on Earth, good will toward men.”

  2. Unfortunately I must admit I am guilty of forcing Christmas cheer on you, and I apologize for that! I forget that people don’t at least participate a little in the holiday, since it’s become a totally secular thing for me and most non-religious people I know still sort of celebrate it. I think we can all be more sensitive about the wording we use this time of year, but no matter what religion you are, it’s nice to get cards and/or presents from people you love! I could probably ramble more on my mixed thoughts about Christmas, but I won’t. 🙂 Blessed belated Bumblefest!

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