Being raised in a Catholic family meant Christmas was mostly about the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was also a time to spend with family, some of them I didn’t see most of the year. My parents are Portuguese so our family gatherings were large — and loud! — but festive and fun. I always looked forward to it every year. Today, gathering with family is still my favourite part of the holidays.
I stopped going to church over 10 years ago for various reasons (which I won’t go into because that’s not what this post is about), however, I still have my beliefs and in my heart, Christmas is still very much about recognizing the birth of Jesus and what that means to me. The difference now, compared to my childhood, is that I have my own way of acknowledging it.
Year after year I see many people use social media to voice their opinions about keeping Christ in Christmas. There seem to be very strong feelings about people saying Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. I’m not here to tell you that those feelings aren’t valid, but I would like to take a moment to step back and give a different perspective on this topic.
The holiday season is a joyous time of year so in that aspect, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with saying Happy Holidays.
Here is something else to consider. You will notice throughout this blog post that I will use the phrase “holiday season” rather than referring to this time of year simply as Christmas time? There is a reason behind this and I think this is something many people seem to lose sight of: Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated at this time of year. In fact, there are many other holidays celebrated during the month of December.
To name a few: there is the Islamic holiday Mawlid, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad; there is Bodhi Day, on which Buddhists commemorate Buddha’s enlightenment; there is the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the festival of lights; there is the week-long celebration of Kwanzaa which honours African culture and traditions.
As the mother of two children who attend a school in which every cultural and religious holiday throughout the year is acknowledged, I feel it’s important to be open with my son and daughter about the very multicultural community we live in and to teach them about embracing and accepting those we share this community with.
They have reached an age where they are more aware and curious about their peers and the different backgrounds they come from, and also an age I feel they are ready to learn more about Christmas and the other holidays celebrated at this time of year.
Until this point, all they have known about Christmas has been about family gatherings, presents, and Santa, but recently I have spoken with them more about how many people also celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. I have spoken to them about my upbringing as a Catholic and how celebrating the birth of Jesus was very much a part of Christmas in my childhood and early adult years. I am taking this conversation with them one step at a time since I am no longer attending church and I don’t want to confuse them, but I am leading up to explaining to them how Christ is still a part of Christmas for me just in a different way than before.
I have also used this opportunity to explain to them that Christmas is not the only holiday people celebrate at this time of year which is why we have neighbours who don’t decorate with a Christmas tree or lights and why they have classmates who don’t talk about Christmas or Santa, because their families might be celebrating something else.
I won’t stop my children from saying Merry Christmas but I will encourage them to also say Happy Holidays and be an example to them by doing the same. The reason why is because I feel saying Happy Holidays is more inclusive and this way we are not leaving anyone out. As I said before, this is a joyous time of year, but it is joyous to different people for different reasons.
The holiday season is about peace, love, and kindness, which is something that Jesus himself taught others and a lesson I take very seriously. This is something I strive each day to teach my son and daughter, as well as generosity, charity and treating others the way they would want to be treated — all valuable lessons I gained from my Catholic upbringing.
For me, the holiday season is about welcoming family and friends into my home and my heart; it is about being kind to others; it is about praying for a peaceful world for my children to grow up in. To achieve all of this, and to teach this to my kids, I try to always remember this verse from the bible: Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).
And so when I say Happy Holidays it is not about taking Christ out of Christmas, but rather it is the opposite. It is about including everyone in the festive spirit and welcoming them all with peace, love, and kindness. After all, isn’t that what Jesus himself taught others?