This week I received a telephone call from a salesperson who was trying to sell me a product that I have no interest in or need for. It was one of those cold calls where the sales person knew my name and asked for me personally. I was polite, but firm, in telling the sales person that I wasn’t interested and asked them to please take me off their calling list. I said goodbye and prepared to hang-up the phone when the salesperson says: “You have a Merry Christmas Mr. Abrams”, which on the surface is not something I find offensive, but his greeting was delivered to me with a tone of contempt and hostility that left me feeling a bit stunned.
I don’t celebrate Christmas, the holiday is not part of my religious tradition. But I’m not one who finds a cheerful “Merry Christmas” to be offensive. I tend to use the phrase “Happy Holidays” when delivering my own season’s greetings because it feels more genuine to me. It feels a little off for me to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” since it’s not a holiday I celebrate.
What I don’t understand is how the various season’s greetings moved from social kindnesses to statements of division and defiance. I’m not talking about the negative responses by the recipients of the greeting, but hostility on the part of the person extending the greeting.
For example, in recently weeks we’ve witnessed the “Merry Christmas” greeting utilized as a political statement of defiance adopted by some politicians. According to CNN, during a campaign stop in October, Donald Trump pledged to his supporters that he would always say “Merry Christmas” and that “…you can leave Happy Holidays at the corner”.
Closer to home in Harris County, Georgia, and perhaps even more divisively, is the story reported by the Washington Post of the local Sheriff, Mike Jolley, who posted a sign “welcoming” visitors that says:
“WARNING: Harris County is politically incorrect,” the sign states. “We say: Merry Christmas, God Bless America and In God We Trust. We salute our troops and our flag. If this offends you … LEAVE!”
I’m dismayed when I see things like this sign. I’m left wondering if Mr. Trump or Sheriff Jolley understand that they are really changing the nature of the Christmas holiday and greeting through their statements. They’ve unwittingly, or not, transformed the holiday from a season of good will to something that is much less inclusive and appears much more aggressive to me.
It’s oddly ironic the way people such as Mr. Trump and Sheriff Jolley are co-opting the Christmas greeting into some sort of quasi-religious patriotic statement. What they’re offering is something very different than the freedom we Americans aspire to. Instead, they’re demanding conformity as a predicate to inclusion. I wonder if either has really thought much about freedom, what our troops fight to protect, or the dignity that is bestowed upon all human-beings through concepts of religious sacredness?
Louis Brandeis, a United States Supreme Court Justice, during the challenging first half of the 20th century considered the nature of freedom and is quoted as saying:
“The right most valued by all civilized men is the right to be left alone”
In the end that’s really all most of us really want isn’t it? It’s not about “political correctness”, whatever that really means. It’s about simply being accepted as we are. Surely, in the land of the free, I can chart my own path and decide how to greet people and what holidays to celebrate without being invited to leave town?