With each passing winter, thanks in part to a 24-hour news cycle capitalizing on easily-stirred public outrage, the drama and debate surrounding the proper way to celebrate, decorate and partake in the holiday season only seems to grow.
This year has proven to be no exception.
Although the United States has a diverse religious make-up, with 22.8 percent of Americans reportedly unaffiliated and nearly 6 percent of a non-Christian faith according to 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans have long referred to and associated the holiday season with ‘Christmastime.’
But times are changing, and with them, so is the vocabulary surrounding the holiday season.
Though the push away from faith-based vernacular has blossomed from a desire to be more inclusive to those of a non-Christian background, the move from Christian-exclusive terminology has come with an intense and persistent backlash.
Unfortunately, in this battle of language, there have only been losers.
The celebration of the holidays in any manner, or lack thereof, should be of no concern to anyone other than the individual taking part. Any person should feel comfortable expressing their holiday wishes in a way that feels authentic to them — and should extend that same courtesy to others.
Wishing someone “Happy Holidays” in no way undermines their holiday experience. Similarly, using a religious greeting specific to Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa does not implicate bad intent or justify verbal attack.
Though the notion that Christmas is the only holiday worth publically celebrating is grossly callous and short-sighted, it is also insensitive to attempt to remove any and all individual expression of religious affiliation from public spaces. Individuals should be allowed to tastefully decorate their offices, partake in holiday-specific activities and dress in a way that expresses their faith without fear of punishment or official rebuke.
The U.S. has long been a haven for open-expression. The freedom to choose how to best display any faith a person may connect with without impediment, so long as it poses no significant harm to the public at large, is integral to the American experience. But these rights do not, and cannot, apply to only the faith possessed by a simple majority.
Holidays of any sort, be they celebrated by the many or the few, are sacred. Much as those who do not celebrate have the right to exempt themselves from expression of faith, so too should those who do believe be free to display their faith without fear of consequence.
The U.S. must be the land of the free for all, not just most.