Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Individuality!

[Cross posted from Versus The Mob]

Yesterday, I received an email from one of my now former students about some personal business, and the student signed off with "happy holidays!" I responded with my customary "Merry Christmas!" I then had a mental twitch and wondered if I would next receive some sort of admonition for "assuming" that the holiday I celebrate - that a majority of Americans do - is one shared by the student I was exchanging emails with.

Much is made of sanitizing the cultural expressions tied to this time of the year, with places such as Washington State University, officially or otherwise, adopting the neutral "happy holidays" expression for fear of offending some particular ethnic or religious group. This has come to be seen as the "tolerant" thing to do, with culturally specific instances of seasonal well-wishing being seen as somehow rude, oppressive, etc.

It is true that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Some celebrate Hanukkah, some Kwanzaa, and some do not celebrate anything at this time of the year. It is thus held by some that to express a wish for a person's well being to them in any of these particular ways, which may not be their own, is somehow offensive and wrong.

But would this not also mean that one can only wish for the well being of his or her own ethnic, cultural, or religious group? It is implied in this erroneous belief that one's wish for the well being of another is meaningless, even an affront, if the person it is expressed to does not share the exact same practices. Of course, this makes no sense - if I wish someone a Merry Christmas, and they turn out to be a Hindu, for example, it does not change two things:

1. In my cultural observances, and in that of millions of others, it is Christmastime, and the other person can recognize that for me it is that time;
2. Even if the other person does not celebrate Christmas, during this period of time in which others are, things can still go well or things could go badly for this person. My expression of well wishing toward him or her is still expressed in the hope that things will go well for that person during this time.

Thus, there should be no dilemma created, real or imagined, if I say "Merry Christmas" to a Muslim, who may in return wish me a happy Ramadan, or the same to a Jew who may in turn wish the Muslim a happy Hanukkah (when each person's respective holy time is occurring, of course).

This should seem obvious, but somehow, our universities, governments, even our society at large, have adopted the idea that cultural-specific holiday well wishing is offensive. Instead, we have the bland "happy holidays!" held up as the ideal replacement.

But who does "happy holidays" belong to? That is, whose identity is tied to it? Of course, the intention - and the effect - is that no one should have their identity tied to it. Instead of making expressions reflecting who we are, we are told that we should blurt a meaningless abstraction instead. While some take this to be the mark of sensitivity and tolerance, I maintain that it is anything but. This is nothing more than another way in which collectivists attempt to destroy our individuality, to mold us into the amorphous "society" devoid of individuality that they take to be the ideal. The non-distinct phrase, "happy holidays" is not meant to spare the fragile psyches of "oppressed" individuals, but to deny individuality to everyone; it is the very definition of intolerance, masquerading as tolerance.

So to all, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and I will happily accept your individual expressions of well wishing toward me in return, without offense, no matter what form they come in!


Sarcastic Housewife #1 said...

Merry Christmas, Paul!

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

Merry Christmas, Sarcastic one! :)

April E. Coggins said...

Happy birthday! That is what we are celebrating, isn't it? As much as our sacred holiday has been picked apart, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace. Be bold. Enjoy it and wish it on other people.

Paul E. Zimmerman said...

April -

It turns out that Christmas is making it hard for me to get in touch with Kelly. He's been out and about doing some last minute Christmas shopping. :)