With 24 hours to go, there are a fair number of people in America and Britain wondering whether ‘Merry Christmas’ would be a suitable greeting tomorrow. After two thousand and six years, they’re questioning the acceptability of the sentiment. Will it offend non-Christians?
It’s over a decade since a US presidential card has actually mentioned Christmas. Even the born-again George W has not reversed this cultural pusillanimity. But this year in Britain some cards are actually wishing ‘Happy Holidays’ instead. In Birmingham a few local councillors have chosen to rename the Christian festival ‘Winterval’, as if the onset of the freezing season was something to celebrate! And a recent survey by the law firm, Peninsula, has found that an astonishing 74 per cent of employers have disallowed Christmas decorations in their offices.
At the bottom of this bizarre nonsense — to call it concern for the feelings of non-Christians is tantamount to abuse of the latter, because none would feel aggrieved by the celebration of Christmas — is the exaggerated pursuit of political correctness taken all the way to the point of madness. It’s one thing to address women as ‘Ms’, drop the golliwog from Robertson’s jam and re-write most of Enid Blyton, but is it necessary to view religious festivities as competitions of faith? And then to assume they are in conflict and that the enjoyment of one is somehow the demotion or denigration of another?
Of course, not everyone in the West has succumbed to this mid-winter madness. My old friend Trevor Phillips, now Chairman of Britain’s Commission for Racial Equality, has sent Christmas cards which mock this fashion for political correctness. With a traditional nativity scene on the cover, they carry tongue-in-cheek doodlings such as ‘Three wise men can’t be all men’ and ‘The snow looks hideously white’. It’s a jab in the eye of the Birmingham brigade. But I wonder how much of the credit goes to Trevor’s Indian wife, Asha?
India with its myriad faiths — though sometimes a lot less tolerance — can remind our western cousins one doesn’t have to be a Christian to celebrate Christmas. Or Eid, or Diwali or Passover for that matter.
I grew up eagerly anticipating the 25th of December. I enjoy singing carols, hungrily tuck into the turkey and mince pies and find Christmas trees a comforting presence except, of course, when the cleaning-up starts on the 5th! So, tomorrow, regardless of whether you’re Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain or Parsi — or even a Christian! — I shall greet you with a loud and cheery ‘Merry Christmas’. And, frankly, that’s what I expect in return.
However, today let me borrow a more elaborate and legally precise greeting received by email from my cousin Bhartu in New York. Needless to say, I’ve taken his express permission to pass it on:
“Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the summer solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that India is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.
By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.