Is it happy holidays or merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah? Party affiliation seems to have a lot to say about approved greetings during the December holidays.
A recent telephone poll conducted in English and Spanish from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11, with 1,004 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute exposed a deep divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.
When asked, "Do you think stores and businesses should greet their customers with 'happy holidays' or 'season's greetings' instead of 'Merry Christmas' out of respect for people of different faiths, or not?" 66 percent of Democrats said yes, while only 28 percent of Republicans agreed. Not accounting for party affiliation, Americans were almost evenly split on what is proper address during the December holidays.
So toss holiday greetings into the same partisan political potluck as same-sex marriage and abortion, issues where it seems difficult for Americans to find common ground.
The same report also noted that “attitudes on this question are largely unchanged over the last six years.”
But perhaps the most important issue here isn’t about our partisan bickering or political correctness. It lies in the lesson conveyed in the great 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street.”
The same survey marked a drop in religiosity among Americans in the last decade. And the marketplace has reacted. Many customer-facing employees and the media are instructed to say “happy holidays” as a catch-all to make a customer interaction easier. And I would dare to say, the shift is less about fellowship, family and love to feeding our consumer-based economy.
But are we strip mining the meaning of the holidays in search for dollars and an emasculated version of our traditions and celebration just to feed some form of political correctness.
Being raised in a Jewish family with an Italian Grandmother (my Grandfather’s second wife) in the dense, multicultural cities of both New York and Los Angeles; I came to understand the importance of understanding where people are coming from.
Personally, I size up the person I’m talking to and try to see which greeting applies to them in lieu of simply saying “Happy Holidays”.
Recently, I’ve been saying both Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to those I don’t know. I want to make a personal connection with someone I’m wishing well to, so I try to find out what they’re doing this month.
To me, that goes to the purpose of the season, and not just to give a greeting and move on to the next customer. The holidays need faith. Faith in what is unique and quite personal to all people.
To some, the holidays are strictly rooted in religious faith, and these people take the birth of Jesus or the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as the principal purpose of their celebration.
This isn’t a strike against multiculturalism or inclusiveness; it’s just their personal beliefs.
As someone who has seen the ugly side of human nature during my time in law enforcement, I am supportive of anyone who has something to believe in, as long as that something is positive in nature and helps that person be a contributing member of society.
At the same time, many find their faith in different things over the holidays. Some find faith in family, and the fellowship that comes from putting aside personal differences and coming together this season.
For those finding faith in families, it’s important to remember you love one another regardless of one’s politics.
Over Thanksgiving, 19 percent of the aforementioned survey’s respondents reported squabbles with relatives over politics. By comparison, only 8 percent of those who never talk about politics reported disagreements. Eighteen percent of Democrats, and 12 percent of Republicans, reported that political differences arose over Thanksgiving. Young people reported more than twice as much family disagreement than seniors, 21 percent to 10 percent. While 5 percent of Americans say they plan to spend less time with certain family members because of their political views, it is five times as prevalent among Democrats (10 percent) than Republicans (2 percent).
My political views drastically differ with many of my family members; and we’ve argued about it. At the end of the day everyone loses if the holidays are politicized and people who love each other waste valuable time arguing over things that they can’t personally control at the dinner table.
Finally, some find faith over the holiday season in hope for the year to come. I fall into this category as it’s been especially hard for me to get into the holiday spirit this year.
Last November, my mother passed away unexpectedly, followed by my uncle in December and my beloved Aunt (his wife) in the spring. All the while, I have been personally attacked and cyberstalked by a group online who seek to get at my employer and policy differences they have.
They’ve been doing so by continually dredging up a mistake I made over eleven years ago; one I had worked long and hard to resolve legally and through education, work, and volunteering. I’m continually characterized inaccurately, and attacked personally.
Many, in our current age of discourse are dealing with similar attacks, labels, and instead of coming together and talking with each other as humans; the internet has made it far too easy to treat people as if they aren’t human beings with families of their own.
I don’t write this to try and get sympathy, I do it because when a stranger gives you a holiday greeting; you may be too caught up in your own world to consider that that person may be going through some pretty heavy stuff in their life when they extended that greeting to you as well.
I find faith this holiday season, as I did last year, in the hope and belief that things will get better. That my continued good works will be recognized and that we can all come together and discuss our differences as people, instead of attacking one another viscously from behind the safety of a keyboard. I have faith that Americans will work together and help each other, regardless of whether they voted for the leaders in charge.
I have faith that posts on the internet will not continue to sway public opinion over facts determined in courts, professional investigations, and science. I have faith that things will hopefully get better for all of us, in our own ways, and that we can get there without dumping on each other. Forget the gifts and parties; that is what the holidays are all about to me.
So when I shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Chanukah”, or even when I put my right hand over my heart and say “Salaam”; I’m doing so to make an honest connection with you. Let’s not politicize this season and where people find their faith in it; and simply give your respective greeting back and start a dialogue that could possibly make things a little better for both of you.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah…and have a very happy holiday season.
A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Board at St.John’s University and the Peirce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter: @PublicSafetySME
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.