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Happy (fill in the blank)Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011, at 9:01 PM
The Christmas I was 8 years old and teetering on the brink of an "is-he-or-isn't-he real" belief in Santa Claus, I was very concerned that if my parents were telling the truth, Santa might not find me or my sister and brother.
We lived at the time in the city of Tripoli, Libya, where an abundance of palm trees and sand took the place of snow and bare-branched oaks and maples, and I thought it was very possible that the old fellow might zoom right past us without so much as a backward glance.
We did have a lovely Christmas tree, imported from Germany, in plenty of time before Christmas Eve for my father to perform his annual Grinch-like mumbling as he tried yet again to make the tree more perfect and assign the perfect branch location for every light bulb. My siblings and I fidgeted with tinsel and ornaments, whining about how long it was taking him while my mother tried unsuccessfully to keep us from annoying him to the point of shouting.
In other words, it was a pretty normal Christmas for us, except for location.
It worried me that although we had a tree inside the house, there were no outside decorations on our apartment building. In fact, except for a few decorations at businesses owned by the local Italian nationals, it wasn't beginning to look at all like Christmas anywhere in the city.
When I asked my mother why, she explained that most of the population of Libya, other than foreigners like us, along with Italian and British nationals, was Moslem (the term in use at the time). It was the first time I realized that not everyone in the world celebrates -- or even cares about -- Christmas.
Christmas -- and Santa -- came and went that year and it wasn't long before the truth about Santa became unfortunately clear. But the idea of Christmas as a day not universally observed took a little longer to consider and understand.
In the U.S., roughly 75 percent of the population identifies itself as Christian. The remaining 25 percent includes Jews, atheists and agnostics, Muslims and a variety of other less well-known religions or belief structures.
Worldwide, however, the picture shifts dramatically. Christian believers constitute only about 33 percent of the world's population, with the various types of believers in Islam coming in around 21 percent. The next largest group is those who are non-religious at 16 percent, followed by Hindu religionists at 14 percent. The rest of the world's population is divided among Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Chinese traditionalists and tribal-indigenous peoples and many other, smaller groups.
Does this shed any light on how we greet each other during the holiday season? Well, I suppose that depends on how seriously you take the intended-to-be-light-hearted greetings people toss around so freely at this time of year. And make no mistake, people take it very seriously indeed.
At this point in December, I'm saying "Merry Christmas!" to everyone I see. A few weeks ago, I was saying "Happy Thanksgiving!" and in a few weeks I'll be saying "Happy New Year!"
But maybe it's easier, or as some would have it, more politically correct, to just say "Happy holidays." That way, I wouldn't have to figure out if the people I'm speaking to either do or do not celebrate Christmas, Kwaanza, Hannukah, New Year's or National Secretary's Day, or any other holiday or none of those days or only two or them or three or four.
If I greet people with "Happy holidays," I'm missing no one. I'm not excluding Christmas, I'm including it AND every other holiday that occurs during the same period. I'm not singling out a Christian celebration, or trying to deny it, I'm trying to include it with all the others.
Here in the Midwest, unless you're in a very large city, it's likely okay to say "Merry Christmas." If you're in a large city, especially on the East or West Coasts, it's better to say "Happy Holidays," since the concentration of religions other than Christian is greater in larger cities than small ones.
Unfortunately, there are those who are offended when they hear "Happy Holidays." They believe, for a reason I cannot fathom, that this is an attempt to deny the fact of Christmas. It's not. It's an attempt to acknowledge that even though we are not all on the same page, even though we are not all Christians, we still want our friends, our neighbors, even people we do not know, to have an enjoyable holiday season, no matter what they believe or do not believe.
Love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Peace on earth, goodwill to men. Isn't wishing people well "the reason for the season?"
Whatever your belief, or non-belief, have a wonderful December 25th.
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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.