Wishing for less fear, more words

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Before your turkey leftovers can be turned into sandwiches and soup, the war of words begins.

The cashier that wishes you a hearty “Happy holidays!” is a front-line soldier, as much in need of a fox hole as the bell ringer shouting “merry Christmas!”

The supposed War on Christmas is the center of the dispute, forcing acquaintances to decide what, if anything, is appropriate to say. By wishing neighbors a happy holiday, we’re removing Christ from the celebration. By inserting Christmas, we’re making a religious assumption.

A poinsettia flower decorates a table. (Crystal LoGiudice/The Gazette)

What I’ve noticed this year — and maybe you’ve noticed it too — is that fewer people seem willing to cross the battleground. Instead of warm wishes, however contrived, people in service professions or on the street are choosing to say nothing at all.

It’s a real and intolerable casualty of this imaginary war.

A host of reporters have already explained how people of different faiths, as well as those without a specific religion, celebrate the season. I won’t duplicate that work here, except to reinforce this truth: People want to connect with others and acknowledge the shared life celebrations and traditions that transform this small piece of the year.

Since my livelihood depends on words, I’ll also refrain from diminishing them.

To convey specific information, it’s important we choose the correct words — often those that harbor the most meaning for our audience.

That’s why “merry Christmas” means more to Christians than a secular “happy holidays” or the Pagan greeting of “blessed be.” Tt makes sense to use words we know will best convey our intention.

But what about those who celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Bodhi Day, Festivus or other religious and secular traditions from November to January? If conveying intent is key, when I’m speaking to someone of the Jewish faith, shouldn’t I wish that person a “happy Hanukkah?”

It also makes sense to choose greetings that encompass a wide range of traditions when we are unaware of preferences. Not to lessen one at the expense of another, but to acknowledge all and to allow everyone to fully participate in their preferred celebration.

More than that, it allows us all to be connected, just for a moment. We can look each other in the eye and not worry about political leanings or socio-economic status. We can celebrate that we are alive, human and filled with caring for each other.

The perceived War on Christmas was likely started with good intentions, but those beginnings no longer justify it. Goodwill is not the sole property of a single group, and attempts to commandeer it harm everyone.

One of my seasonal traditions is to make a wish for the coming year. I’ll wish for tolerance and inclusivity to return.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono had it right in 1970 when they wrote, “And so, happy Christmas, for black and for white, for yellow and red ones, let’s stop all the fight.”

Tonight I’ll offer thanks for those who reached out to connect with me, no matter which words they used, and hope their numbers multiply before next year.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on December 24, 2016. Photo credit: Crystal LoGiudice/The Gazette