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Be happy for holidays – no matter which is yours

According to my parents, I’m the daughter of a Reform Jewish mom from Brooklyn and a nondenominational Christian dad from Battle Creek. We had menorahs and a Christmas tree in our home.

According to Beliefnet’s interesting Belief-o-matic quiz, I've grown up to be a secular humanist with Buddhist tendencies. 

According to people who operate in a vacuum, I’m an inconvenience this time of year. I'm the reason you "have" to say "happy holidays.”

This isn’t my mandate. As a general rule, I’m not offended by good wishes. I do, however, wonder how those who get wound up about the homogenization of holiday greetings would feel if they were routinely and exclusively wished “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa.” At some point you just want to say, “Hey! There’s more than one thing happening this month!”

I think because I grew up in a minority religion, I’ve always been hyper-aware of how all kinds of cultures and celebrations are included – or not – by others. So I’m fascinated by people who think that because other religions and cultures are acknowledged, it somehow diminishes theirs.

Equally vexing to me: People who feel their beliefs trump all others, particularly in December. Worship in the U.S. is changing. According to a Pew Research study, nearly four in 10 people are married to someone with a different religion. Traditions are being blended today in households across our country, never mind the aisle of your favorite big-box retailer where the Hanukkah end cap sits adjacent to wrapping paper decorated with angels and the baby Jesus.

So, as we approach the holiday season (Thanksgivukkah is only 18 days away!), here are seven things I wish more people would consider while interacting with their fellow citizens:

Recognize not everyone celebrates the same holiday you do. Honestly, if we could just accomplish this one thing, it might make the holidays less stressful for everyone. Your definition of your chosen holiday might not even line up with someone else’s definition from the exact same religion. So expecting everyone to celebrate – and acknowledge holidays – in the same manner you would is not realistic.

Enjoy your holiday. Live it up! Wear sweaters bedecked with holiday-specific doodads! Decorate, bake, sing and drink it all in.

Expect to encounter different beliefs and celebrations. Appreciate other people’s traditions. Maybe even learn from them.

Call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. A tall evergreen covered in lights and other sparkly trimmings is – in fact – a Christmas tree. People of other religions or beliefs don’t feel more included when it’s called a holiday tree.

If you know what holiday someone celebrates, by all means wish them a happy “that.” Say “Merry Christmas.” It’s OK. It’s also OK to ask questions about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Bodhi Day or the Winter Solstice. Those of us in the minority welcome the chance to share some background, talk about traditions or maybe even bake you something you’ve never eaten.

Don’t take a good wish as an assault on your belief system. “Happy holidays,” and “season’s greetings” are just that – good wishes.

Relax. The less time we spend getting wound up about how to greet one another in December, the more time we have to enjoy the things we love about this time of year. We might even find time to learn and make our worlds bigger, better and more tolerant.

That feels a whole lot more like the spirit of the season. Any season.

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