Years ago I used to work as a department manager for a Nordstrom that was located in a very wealthy little town outside of San Francisco. While I was working there my store manager decided to throw a “holiday party” for our customers. I put this in quotes because usually when a retailer says they’re throwing a holiday party for customers what they really mean is that they’re going to serve hot cider while customers charge up their credit cards during extended store hours. However the Nordstrom manager wanted to make sure that her party was inclusive of all the different ethnic communities that existed within the community (which happened to be over 87% white and 92% Christian). In the interest of achieving this goal she enlisted me to play the role of diversity consultant since I was the only Black manager in the store and, as far as she knew, the only Jewish one.
As soon as I walked into her office she hit me with her first all important question: “Other than Christmas, what holidays are in December?”
“Well,” I hedged, “There’s Chanukah and Kwanza.”
My manager nodded thoughtfully, indicating that she had heard these words uttered before but didn’t really know what they meant. “How are those celebrated?” she asked.
I’ve been celebrating Chanukah all my life so I pretty much know how it goes but I’m completely ignorant when it comes to Kwanza (well not so much anymore, Blues Clues had a special about it two years ago). Anyway I told her that there were candles involved and promised to get some more details together before the big event.
I started to close my notebook with the assumption that our meeting was complete when she snapped her fingers and said, “I know who we’re forgetting! The Swedes! The Swedes have holidays throughout December. Look into it please because we have a very large Swedish population in this city and we don’t want them to feel excluded or discriminated against.”
Let me take a moment to assure my readers that I’m not making this up.
Of course Swedes are not a persecuted minority. I’m fairly sure that in the history of law enforcement no police officer has ever heard the words, “You’re just pulling me over because I’m Swedish!” But I decided that it would be politically inopportune to point this out so instead I nodded and made a note in my day-planner that said “Plan holiday party that is inclusive of Jews, militant Blacks and Swedes” and then quickly ducked out of the office before my boss started fretting over the large number of Dutch living in the vicinity.
Of course my boss’s request was a little on the crazy side but I understood the fear that was feeding her insanity. She had heard too many reports of people complaining about Christmas trees being displayed in public areas and she wanted to make sure that the PC police stayed off her back.
Now the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction, and radically so.
I suppose it’s not all that surprising. For years people on the far left have been insisting that city governments shouldn’t be draping holly over their lamp posts and they put a lot of people who celebrate Christmas on the defensive. But instead of fighting back with logic and calls for moderation the far right is now railing against the use of the term “Happy Holidays.” According to a large number of people (many of whom work for Fox news) the fact that Kmart, Target and Walmart are opting to use the term “Happy Holidays” is an insult to those who celebrate Christmas.
Seeing that I’m a Jew and all it’s probably inappropriate for me to tell Christians what Christmas is supposed to be about but I’m going to do it anyway. It’s supposed to be about the birth of your Lord and all that he stood for with a special emphasis on peace and love of one’s fellow man. It’s only been within the last 100 years that it’s become about shopping and commercialism. You see the “war on Christmas” has already been fought and Macy’s won. In fact the day after Thanksgiving a brawl broke out at Walmart over the last of a small order of laptops that was on sale for $22 dollars off the list price. One Walmart employee reported that she heard a mother screaming at her ten year old (who had not managed to score one of the laptops), “I told you you were going to have to be aggressive in order to get one of those things!”
Are Christians really supposed to take issue with the fact that the banner these people were fighting under didn’t say Merry Christmas?
Here’s my suggestion: If you get upset every time you see a Santa Claus in a store window you need to relax. If you don’t celebrate Christmas and you want your holiday to be given more attention I guarantee you that Corporate America will support you in your quest. For example, Sur La Table is selling little plastic bags of 12 individual blue and white Jelly Bellies for $4.95. Of course you can get around two dozen jelly bellies for 50 cents from most candy dispensers but Sur La Table’s jelly bellies are special: they have the words “Happy Hanukah” stamped across package. Now that’s progress! Perhaps in a few years Jews will be getting into punching matches over Blue Light Specials too! I’ll admit that Kwanza doesn’t get a lot of attention but that can be easily fixed. Someone just needs to call Safeway and alert them to the problem. I’m sure they’ll be happy to put up a display of the traditional foods for Kwanza in the front of the store along with a reminder that you could buy each item for a very reasonable price with your Safeway club card. If, for whatever reason, you don’t celebrate holidays during December I’ll admit there’s not a lot to be done for you. You’re just going to have to resign yourself to being richer than the rest of us come January.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of those people who gets upset when people say, “Happy Holidays” allow me to remind you (again)of the point of saying Merry Christmas to begin with. It’s to include others in the joy you feel this season. If saying Merry Christmas makes the person you’re addressing feel excluded then you’ve kind of defeated the whole purpose. Why not share the joy in a way that shows them you respect their cultural and/or religious practices. When in doubt of what those practices are “Happy Holidays” should be a safe choice (unless you’re addressing Bill O’Reilly in which case I’d go with “Merry Christmas and God Bless America”). Going to Kmart, Target, Walmart or any other retailer to complain that yours is the only religious holiday that they should be exploiting for the sake of profits is just plain nuts.
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