I’m pretty sure no one who reads my blog needs to be told any of this but I’ve seen at least a couple of people on Facebook already ranting about their ‘right’ to say “Merry Christmas”, presumably instead of “Happy holidays”. So I apologize in advance for the rant; it isn’t aimed at you.

People: it’s not that hard, And it’s about being polite; do you really want the rest of us to associate Christianity with rudeness? That’s against the tenets of your own religion. (I am thinking specifically of St. Augustine of Hippo, who said, more or less, “If you speak idiotically on things people do understand, they won’t believe you on matters of faith, either,” and of St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.” Not to mention a whole bunch of things Jesus said.) There are quite a lot of your coreligionists who are doing their best to improve the world by living according to the teachings of Jesus; if the rest of you would shut up once in a while, maybe it would be easier for the rest of us to associate Christianity with what they are doing instead of with intolerance.

For those who need a primer, this is how it works. It isn’t hard.

You say “Merry Christmas” to people who you know celebrate Christmas. You say “Happy Chanukah” or “Eid Mubarak” or whatever if appropriate to people who celebrate those holidays. If you’re not sure, you could say “Happy New Year”, since almost everyone celebrates that (including people who also celebrate other new years such as Rosh Hashanah or Chinese New Year in addition). Or you could say “Happy Holidays” to express general good will and good manners. For that matter, you often can say “Happy Holidays” to people who you know will be celebrating Christmas, if you also want to wish them a happy New Year and won’t see them again until after both holidays. Really, it’s just not that difficult.

I want to be polite and respectful; therefore I do say “Merry Christmas” to people who I know celebrate it, including the entire family I married into. No one has ever oppressed me for saying it, or even voiced a mild complaint. I say “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Chanukah” or “Happy New Year” to people who celebrate Chanukah, including my entire family of origin. When I worked with someone who celebrated Kwanzaa, I wished her a happy Kwanzaa. When I’ve worked with or been friends with Muslims, I wished them “Eid Mubarak” at the proper time of year. I wish pagans a “Good Jule” if that’s part of their belief system.

The basic principle is extremely simple: when you know the person, you show respect by recognizing that they live their life, whether or not it matches yours. When you don’t know the person, it is not polite to make assumptions, so you speak in generalities. (And yes, the perceptive among you may note that this could also include, e.g. saying “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife”. Or even not assuming everyone is happily part of a couple at all.)

By the way, in our house we celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year. Greetings for any of those, or just a wish to enjoy our vacations, are welcome.