Who Does ‘Happy Holidays’ Exclude?
As a default seasonal greeting, “Happy Holiday” beats “Merry Christams” hands down. It laudably acknowledges that, during the traditional holiday season (roughly, American Thanksgiving through Gregorian New Year’s Day), millions observe some holiday other than Christmas. But “Happy Holidays” implicitly assumes that every Amercican is celebrating something during the five and a half weeks ‘twixt Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when in fact many people aren’t. For those whose “season” includes no holiday, “Happy Holidays” serves the same dark purpose as “Merry Christmas.” It’s a snub, an unsubtle reminder to those out of step that everyone’s “supposed” to be observing some holiday, any holiday, at this festive season.
So exactly whom does “Happy Holidays” rebuff?
Hindus. Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, sometimes falls during the Western holiday season. This year? It was October 21.
Jains. Jains observe the nirvanna (final liberation) of thier prophet Mahavira on the same schedule as Diwali–October 21 again.
Buddhists. Buddihism has no universal festival during the “season.” (Japanese Buddhists mark Rohatsu, Buddha’s enlightenment day, on December 8, but that practice has little following outside of Japan.)
Baha;is, sort of. No major Baha’i festivals fall during the Western holiday season. There are, however, two minor ones: the Day of the Covenant on November 26, and the commemoration of the Ascension of ‘Abud’l-Bahâ on November 28.
The Nonreligious. Oh yeah, us. While many atheists, secular humanists, and freethinkers continue to observe the Christmas or Hanukkah we grew up with–and some of us substitute alternative holidays like the Winter Solstice, HumanLight, or even Festivus–others (myself, for one) celebrate no festival at all during the majority’s holiday season.
On the other hand, after snubbing Muslims for the last tow years, “Happy Holidays” embraces them anew in 2006. The Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast) marks the end of Ramadan; for several years the holiday fell during the Western holiday season, and American naïfs, started thinking of it as “Muslim Christmas.” But because Islamic holidays follow a lunar calendar of 354 days, year by year each holiday falls eleven days earlier on the Gregorian calendar. Depending which Muslim authority you listen to, Eid al-Fitr 2006 began at sunset on the day preceeding either October 23 or October 24, well before American Thanksgiving. (In fact, Eid al-Fitr has fallen outside the Western holiday season since 2004.) But as Eid al-Fitr moves ever earlier, so does Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice, Islam’s other principal festival). Eid al-Adha falls twice during 2006, once in January and again on December 31. So “Happy Holidays” is inclusive toward Muslims once again–as it will be for four more years, until Eid-al-Adha, too, starts to fall earlier than Thanksgiving. After that will come a long dry spell, until the thirty-three-year precession of Islamic holidays through the Gregorian calendar once again tugs Eid al-Fitr into December.
Clearly, “Happy Holidays” represents progress but not the final answer. We need a short, catchy way to say “Happy Holidays, if you’re having any.” Any ideas?