How can I give a trigger warning to people who dislike trigger warnings without sounding like a smart ass? I guess I just won’t call it a trigger warning. Here goes: I’m about to discuss another current phrase that irks many of the same people, particularly in my generation. “Happy Holidays.”
When I took Toto out for her morning walk earlier this week, more than 10 days before Thanksgiving, I noticed that the stores in our neighborhood were already decked with wreaths and evergreen garlands. I was reminded of a Facebook meme I saw the week before.
While I’m on the subject of pet peeves, let me add that this meme is a good example of contemporary overuse of the F-word. As someone who is very unBuddhist when it comes to using foul language to express anger, pain, surprise, etc.,I don’t like to see the emotional power of such words diluted by overuse. My better angel also tells me that this usage exemplifies and contributes to an unfortunate coarsening of our social discourse. When I worked for the Department of Higher Education in New Jersey, I remember being shocked by a college president’s repeated interjection of the F-word in a conversation with relative strangers at a professional meeting. Not that I haven’t used such language myself, but never in a situation like that.
Back to the 12 Days of Christmas. In an email exchange with a friend this past week discussing the election, she closed with “Happy Holidays. Oh, we probably won’t be saying that any more, right?” She’s also a goy married to a Jew with the attendant Jewish in-laws and friends. For her, as for me, “Happy Holidays” is just an expression of consideration for our many non-Christian friends, family, neighbors, and people whom we greet on the street in today’s America. For us it has nothing to do with political correctness or promoting secularism. Like me she’s probably seen posts on social media complaining about the use of “Happy Holidays.” Dislike of this phrase ranges from sadness at the loss of overt recognition of Christ in Christmas to resentment of perceived imposition of political correctness to outright hostility at the increasing presence of non-Christians in our communities.
To my mind the rampant commercialism of the Christmas season, beginning with the roll-up to Black Friday, is a greater enemy to its religious significance as a time for love than any expression like “Happy Holidays.” If “Happy Holidays” comes across as too abstract to express love for others, we can use any words we want as long as they come from our hearts. Using “Merry Christmas” just to assert tribal solidarity hollows out the love in “Merry Christmas,” just as saying “Happy Holidays” as a rote greeting fails to share the love and peace of the season.