Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 19, 2018

The great debate: ‘merry Christmas’ or ‘happy holidays’

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Dec 08, 2017

The days before Christmas were quickly rushing by during the winter of 2012 when I was working as a cashier at Hy-Vee. I spent many of those days picking up extra shifts during the holiday break, trying to make some extra cash to pay for Christmas gifts and put in good face time with my managers.

I don’t remember anyone explicitly telling me to wish customers a “happy holiday” instead of “merry Christmas,” but it felt like an act of defiance to express the latter. That is, until a woman going through my checkout line wished me a “happy Hanukkah” in return. It was naive of me, but I had never before considered the other religious holidays during the socially predominate Christmas season. In my mind, wishing someone “happy holidays” was an attempt at erasing the meaning of Christmas, not an effort to be inclusive toward other people’s religions.

President Donald Trump has proudly stated many times that he is bringing “merry Christmas” back to the White House. But truthfully, it had never left. Former president Barack Obama frequently gave both Christmas and general holiday well-wishes, even relaying the story of the birth of Jesus at last year’s Christmas tree lighting.

Obama frequently argued that celebrating Christmas is “not necessarily to exclude other holidays,” but is also a time to celebrate Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, nonbelievers and Americans of all backgrounds, The Atlantic reported.

While doing my own research, I learned that the word “holiday” stems from the Old English word meaning “holy day,” according to The Atlantic. Isn’t that ironic?

While we hold dear to our hearts our holiday traditions, I think it’s important to consider the traditions of those around us. Not only is December the month of Christmas and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, but I found seven other religious holidays during this time.

Ashura, which was celebrated on Dec. 5, is the 10th day of the first month on the Islamic calendar. It is a celebration by the Sunnis, the largest group of Muslims, to remember that the Prophet Muhammad fasted in solidarity with Jews observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

On Dec. 12, Catholics, especially those of Hispanic descent, celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This story of Guadalupe recounts a 16th-century apparition of Mary to Juan Diego, a poor Indian, on a hillside near what is now Mexico City.

Of course, on Dec. 20, Hanukkah begins at sunset and continues for seven nights. It is a remembrance of an effort to restore the Temple in Jerusalem. Faithful Jews were only able to scrounge up enough oil to light the temple lamp for one day, but the flame burned for eight.

Yalda, the Zoroastrian celebration of the winter solstice is on Dec. 21, followed by Yule, the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Juul on this day is a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia that features fires symbolizing heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun.

And the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, is the beginning of Kwanzaa, a weeklong, modern African-American and Pan-African celebration of family, community and culture.

These are just a few of the many more religious traditions occurring in December, and while sharing the joy of Christmas for Christians can be a way of evangelism, I think it’s important to not let zeal overrun their preparation for the holiday season. It is sacred to them as Christmas may be to a Christian.

As for that woman in the grocery store back in 2012 who wished me a “happy Hanukkah,” her voice was warm with joy and an appreciation for the season. She said it humbly, with no condescension or aggression.

I think I rushed a quick “happy Hanukkah” back to her, feeling blessed by her well wishes for me for the holiday season. And found myself smiling with warmth and joy for the remainder of my shift.

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