From the Left: ‘Happy Holidays!’

Lance Simmens

As political turmoil and increasing divisiveness fray the fabric of civility that is a particular virtue at this time of the year, it is time to take a deep breath, close your eyes in thoughtful meditation and attempt to revert to the wondrous nature of childhood when a season of giving and, yes, receiving, brought smiles to our faces. 

Yet, even December is not immune to controversy. As a young devout Catholic, Christmas always meant something special to me and still does to this day. As I have aged and hopefully grown, it has morphed more into the act of giving than receiving. But here we are again struggling as a society upon how to deliver the appropriate salutations. Is it “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Season’s Greetings,” none of the above? Yes, we can even argue about how to greet one another and what is the appropriate way to express kindness and good cheer.

Personally, I have never been offended by the season’s pleasantries as long as they are offered in the nature of friendship, kindness and truly a celebratory fashion. However, I do know people who are quite sensitive to the way in which the season is celebrated and how they are addressed. I have struggled with the appropriate greeting on occasion and attempt to make light of my ignorance or insensitivity.

Still, I do respect that not everyone is comfortable with “Merry Christmas.” After all, despite the admonitions of a large segment of the American population, we are not a white nor a Christian nation. The beauty of this grand democratic experiment is the very fact that we are an agglomeration of cultures, races and religions where respect for diversity is a cornerstone of our foundational value system.

Rather than stressing over the appropriate salutation or address, can we merely settle on one address that captures the good feelings, joy and respect for what binds us? So, I have settled on “Happy Holidays.” Regardless of what or how or even if you celebrate the season, it seems to me that wishing everyone good will is a way to help recapture the civility that is so sorely being tested on a daily basis at this juncture in our evolution.

This week, I was on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and sitting next to me in seat 57 J was a delightful young Japanese woman whom I decided should serve as my unofficial survey population on the issue. She had an interesting take on the issue. In her personal greetings she would use “Merry Christmas” and in her professional encounters would use “Happy Holidays.” A fine and diplomatic solution for sure, but still too complicated, I thought; the less we have to make decisions the better, so I am sticking with one size fits all. Happy Holidays it is.

We humans have an uncanny way of getting caught up in labels: conservative versus liberal; Democrat versus Republican versus Libertarian; black versus white versus brown; Christian versus Jew versus Muslim versus Atheist; gay versus straight versus lesbian versus questioning versus transgender versus bisexual; right versus left; and on and on. In the end, we are all Americans and regardless of our beliefs and on a broader scale we are all human beings. 

And while, in a perfect world, every day should be reason for celebrating our commonalities rather than our differences, at the very least can we acknowledge that for a short period of time we can put aside those things that we arbitrarily choose to define us and strive to treat each other with respect, kindness, empathy and love. The one aspect of the holiday season that I am particularly fond of are cards that carry the simple message: “Peace on Earth.”

Regardless of how you feel about how you celebrate the season, consider the feelings of how others may respond to a narrow interpretation of what it means before extending that “Merry Christmas” salutation. I remember many years ago how difficult it was for me to not fall into the customary greeting but, eventually, “Happy Holidays” just became a comfortable, valueless and nonjudgmental way of promoting good will. Of course, you may choose your own, and more power to those who come up with a more appropriate recourse than the one that I offer.

Whatever course you take, make sure that it promotes diversity over divisiveness, empathy over ignorance, compromise over combativeness, democracy over despotism and global cooperation over isolationism. And not just in a seasonal sense, but in a year-round effort to restore those most precious assets that we purportedly hold dear: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Happy Holidays to all and may, at the very least the season upon us bring you peace and love, and the prosperity that comes along with both of those virtues.