Portions of the content below appeared on Chasing Roots last December, and the December before, and the December before that. I believe that this post - with a few updates - and its overarching message deserve a share every time the season for "wishing" arrives.
I grew up in an ethnically and religiously diverse community. Because of the plethora of religions supported, holidays celebrated, and traditions followed (and not supported, celebrated, and followed, for that matter - the Freedom From Religion Foundation began and is still based there), and because my hometown has earned a reputation as "the land of the perpetually offended", very little related to religious holidays could be found in public buildings and schools throughout my childhood years. We never sang Christmas carols or wore Santa hats in school, and in 1987, the Christmas tree that had stood proudly in the State Capitol rotunda every December since 1918 was renamed a Holiday tree in an attempt to make the building feel more inclusive and avoid irritating those who didn't celebrate Christmas.
To be clear, I understand why the tree was renamed. A Christmas tree in the State Capitol building is hardly a separation of church and state. It's not the point of my post though, so I'm moving on.
In 2011, Governor Walker re-renamed the tree, this time back to a Christmas tree. "It's a diverse state", Walker explained. "I think it's a reflection of the many wonderful traditions in the State of Wisconsin." Now, during the month of December, the Capitol rotunda also hosts a Menorah, Festivus trees, and a nativity scene mocking Christmas, so it seems more people are "represented" in their State Capitol building. (source)
Again to clarify, I understand why the tree was re-renamed. Just changing the name of an object long associated with a religious holiday doesn't necessarily lessen the association between the two. It's not the point of my post either though, so I'm moving on again.
Growing up, I learned to wish people "Happy Holidays" during the month of December. I used this phrase, and this phrase exclusively, until a few years ago, not because it's lovely and inclusive (and it IS lovely and inclusive - there's absolutely nothing wrong with wishing someone happy holidays), but because I honestly worried about offending someone.
I now live in a completely different kind of community from the one in which I grew up, so out of curiosity, a few years ago I ran little (uncontrolled) experiment. While shopping and running errands during the two weeks leading up to Christmas, I recorded what people "wished" me. I didn't track what they said when I spoke first (because people often respond by repeating whatever phrase they hear), only what they said when they spoke first. I expected to find that in my current community, I would hear "Merry Christmas" more than 90% of the time. On the flip side, I expected to find that once I arrived in my hometown, I would hear "Happy Holidays" - or a wide variety of holiday wishes - more than 75% of the time.
Imagine my surprise when here in Texas I heard "Merry Christmas" six times and "Happy Holidays" six times. I was even more surprised when in Wisconsin I heard "Merry Christmas" seven times and "Happy Holidays" five times.
Tom would have me review my methods, analyze my data using formulas and equations, and submit my results to you in the form of a journal article, formal paper, and presentation, but there's a reason he's a professor and I'm not. I don't care to do any of that; I don't really even want to think about my incorrect predictions.
I do, however, want to focus on how wonderful it felt to be wished anything at all. I celebrate Christmas, but would never take offense if someone wished me Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza or even just Happy Winter. I would never complain about someone wishing me happiness, in any way, shape, or form.
The beauty is in the wishing, folks. So with a kind heart, wish people a happy whatever-you-want - Christmas, Hanukkah, Full Moon, Monday, winter - and with a graceful heart, accept whatever they feel moved to wish you.