According to my computer it is December 26 already and therefore I guess it is safe to talk about why I STILL insist on not wishing strangers Marry Christmas in the U.S. unless I am absolutely certain that they celebrate Christmas: Because Christmas in the U.S. remains a religious holiday.
One’d thought that Christians in this country would be happy and proud that their holiday, the holiday celebrating the birth of the person of whom their religion is the namesake has not gone completely secular despite all the gross commercialization that’s going on.
Although I personally have no problem when strangers wish me a Merry Christmas (and I will wish them the same too), I do not care to assume that everyone I meet in the U.S. is Christian. Of course I know that the “wishing you a Merry Christmas” comes from good will, and it is much appreciated. Nevertheless, the “assumptions” implied in the greeting bother me especially since people simply take it for granted and don’t even realize that they are making assumptions.
[Digression] The irony is? If I were in Taiwan, I would have had no problem wishing anybody Merry Christmas because over there Christmas means Santa Claus, Reindeer, Snowman, Christmas trees, poinsettias, Christmas lights, catchy Christmas music, a great excuse for college students to host parties, a rare opportunity to exchange gifts (vs. cold hard cash in red envelopes <– how mundane & boring) It is an unofficial holiday to celebrate the spirit of giving. Who am I kidding. It is the spirit of spending & shopping that’s being observed…
I hung up the phone with a customer service rep two days before Christmas and turned to my husband who’d just come back from mass with his mother and our two boys.
“Wow. The rep just wished me a Merry Christmas. I’d say he took a gamble when he said that because how’d he know that I celebrate Christmas?”
My husband raised his eyebrows. “You know. The nice thing to say when people wish you a Merry Christmas…”
“Is to say thank you and Merry Christmas to you too. Yes I know that. Christmas to me is more or less a secular holiday, and I don’t mind celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ because it does not matter to me either way. I am happy for you guys. I am agnostic. I believe in everything.” I raised my eyebrows back at him.
“In the homily today,” he started, “the priest told us a story about ducks. Some guy was in his house during a snowstorm and he heard loud thumping on his windows. He looked and saw a bunch of ducks hitting his window – they’re trying to come inside the house but they could not tell that there’s glass. So the man went outside to open the doors to his barn next to the house, thinking that it would be a suitable shelter for those ducks. However, no matter how hard he tried, shooing them, waving at them, luring them with food, he could not get those ducks to stop hitting the window and change their course towards the barn. He realized that he’d have to wait for the ducks to find their way to the barn on their own.”
He looked at me triumphantly, fully satisfied with his success of being a contrarian. Argument for argument’s sake.
“Hmmm.” I took a deep breath. “That is offensive.”
“Why? I am merely saying that you will find your way on your own.”
“It’s offensive because you are assuming that I am LOST and have to find my way somewhere. I am not lost. I am happy where I am. I don’t need to find my way into the church or whatever. Hey, wait a minute. Were you trying to convert me?! I thought Catholics do not proselytize?! What the fuck?!” I protested loudly, in front of his decidedly un-religious brother too, nonetheless.
My husband grinned sheepishly, with the look of someone who just said something he did not intend to mean and got called out, “Well… Maybe the barn is not religion. Or church. Maybe the barn just means happiness in life. That you will find happiness in life on your own…”
“Hmm. Yeah right. The ducks my ass. Seriously what the fuck dude?” I walked out the room, still annoyed because I was unable to explain clearly WHY the story of the ducks is presumptuous and offensive when told to someone who does not wish to and need not be converted.
Later when the three of us were driving to a bar, the subject of ducks came up and we started teasing my husband about our “interesting” discussion earlier.
“Oh come on. I am never going to live this down, am I?”
“You know.” it dawned on me, “Here’s why I find the story of the ducks offensive. It’s like if I simply say ‘I forgive you’ and then walk away. ‘I forgive you’ predicates that you’ve done something wrong that needs to be forgiven. It is grossly unfair, isn’t it?”
I don’t know how to end this post so let me share this idea with you: “I forgive you.” would be a great epitaph.