Don’t wish me a Merry Christmas! It is politically incorrect! —
I come from a Christian home. My family celebrates Christmas. I celebrate Christmas, too.
Culture is nothing other than the onward play of doing what you have always done just because you have always done it. The connection between logic and culture is irrelevant — it matters little of a cultural practice makes sense, all that matters is that you do it. But cultures change over time, and, sometimes in some places you can see it happening.
As I move in and out of the USA, I am catching glimpses of a culture that is changing quickly — A culture that is asking itself “why” far too much and not just allowing itself to ebb and flow and change naturally.
When people try to change their culture they usually do so with a touch of authoritarianism — whether explicit or implicit. It is my impression that the politically correct movement in America is among the most authoritarian ideologies that I have ever observed first hand anywhere in the world. A population afraid to speak its mind is an oppressed population, a population that polices itself is the hallmark of tyranny, a country that tries to make believe that all of its members are the same is on the brink of becoming whitewashed, angular, mono-cultural.
75% of the people in the United States comes from a religious background that celebrates Christmas. But I have noticed an interesting development this year during Christmas in the USA:
Rather than seeing signs and greetings that say “Merry Christmas,” they say “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings,” or some other such benignly “polite” phrase intended to not offend or leave out anyone of non-Christian beliefs.
I realized that I suddenly felt awkward wishing people who I did not know so well a “Merry Christmas,” for fear that I may offend them. This was an odd realization, I don’t know why I felt myself putting up these checks — I never did before — but I found myself doing it none the less (perhaps my new Jewish wife and daughter gave rise to my sensitivities?).
Why do I now feel impolite wishing people a Merry Christmas in a country that is 75% Christian?
If I were in a country that was 75% Muslim I would not hesitate to offer someone a Ramadan blessing, if I were in a country that was 75% Buddhist I would smile and offer a greeting on Buddha’s birthday. This would be automatic, it would be the polite thing to do.
Why is this different in the USA?
Why do I feel as if I should automatically feel driven to pussyfoot around my own culture — one where I am in the majority — in an effort to not offend some undisclosed, mysterious phantom who may be rooted in another?
“Not everybody celebrates Christmas, you know . . .”
The USA is perhaps becoming a diluted culture of pussyfooters afraid to embrace their own beliefs without shame or guilt. If I am in a Muslim country I am greeted with Muslim greetings, if I am in a Buddhist country then I am greeted with palms pressed together at the waist and little bows, if I am in Japan people bow to me. This is called being polite.
Whether or not I am of the same culture, the cultural signals of the majority population are applied to me, too. And I would not dare act offended. I would not dare try to make people shake my hand who offer me a bow, I would not dare try to exert my individual self over an entire society and make people conform to my standard greeting. No, I would go with the flow of the majority population, because this is the polite thing to do.
But the cultural lines are clearly drawn in most countries. You know where everybody stands. Members of each religion, culture, or social group tend to show evidence of their affiliation: various styles of cultural dress was devised for a reason. People dress certain ways, look certain ways, and act certain ways for a reason: it imparts symbols to everyone else in the society as to how you should be approached, it is a demarcation as to where you stand.
It is just as awkward in India to mistake a Hindu for a Muslim as it is wishing a Jew “Merry Christmas” in the USA. The difference is that you are suppose to be able to tell a Hindu apart from a Muslim in India — they traditionally make it easy to do so just by looking at them.
But in the USA the visual signals which speak of a person’s cultural affiliation is often very opaque, and it is somehow impolite to make inferences about a person based on their appearance — the timeless interplay of cultures visibly showing off their group affiliations for other groups to interpret and understand is now considered rude.
In China, you know Hui Muslims because they look like Hui Muslims, you know the Han Chinese because they look like Han Chinese, you know a Tibetan because . . . . There are no questions, and when meeting a person from each cultural group you know automatically how to approach them. Interacting differently with one group of people than you would with another is not considered rude, it is the standard operating system of the country — the law of the land.
In a cultural sea as full of waves as China, how does anyone tell these groups apart?
They look at them.
How to I tell these groups apart?
I look at them, too.
When outside of the USA the first thing I am asked is, “Where are you from?,” and this is often followed up by, “What religion are you?” These are important questions, because the answers to them will determine how I am interacted with.
In China, I noticed that I interact with the Han Chinese very differently that I do Tibetans, Tibetans different than Uighurs, Uighurs differently than Europeans because I observed the patterns of the cultures.
In Japan, a highly stratified society where many people look and dress similarly to each other, a system of exchanging business cards — meishi — upon meeting someone new derived so that people know how they should interact with new acquaintances.
Why? Because it is the polite thing to do. It inhibits potentially embarrassing situations where one person mistakes the social affiliation of another.
Like wishing a Muslim “Merry Christmas” in America.
All cultures have patterns, all patterns are just tendencies, and tendencies have the possibility of containing inconsistencies. This is normal. Only a fool would think that all of “this” kind of person does “that.” But, conversely, blinding your self to the signs and patterns of your society is to leave yourself floating on a sea with no bearings.
So it seems as if you must not wish anyone a Merry Christmas to anyone on the chance that you may offend someone — on the chance that you are unable to determine their cultural/ religious affiliation on sight.
Great measures have been taken to strengthen the cult of the minority, and placing someone in a group, making an inference about someone based on appearance, and misjudging someone’s cultural affiliation is now amongst the rudest things that you can do. So, to ensure that this does not happen — to ensure that nobody is offended — the majority population tip toes around the obstacle course of minority culture.
“We don’t want to offend anyone, so we are going to tiptoe. We are not going to show who we are for fear of overexerting ourselves over those who we are not.”
Large sectors of American society are now proclaiming themselves wantonly as pussyfooters. They are training their kids to be pussyfooters. The vibrant cultural peaks and valleys of America are being boxed up, whitewashed, and sub-urbanized.
It is my impression that “cultural diversity” means nothing other than “cultural difference.” Celebrating the meeting points between these differences is, in my impression, the sign of a highly advanced society.
But when one segment of a population feels as if it has to candy coat its beliefs publicly it is my impression that it degrades the true diversity of the society as a whole. It is my impression that to sweep the Christianity out of Christmas in the name of politeness — to make a religious holiday secular, whitewashed, suburbanized to avoid offending anyone of a different faith– is an affront on a culture as a whole.
So it seems as if the majority culture of a society who attempts to self- dilute their celebrations in order to feel smug and open minded is in fact working against the natural interplays that make diverse societies “melting pots.” It is not my impression that minority religious groups ask for this, it seems as if political correctness is mostly a self imposed doctrine. It is my impression that it is Christians trying to be open minded and polite who no longer use the term “Merry Christmas.”
It is my impression that it is companies trying to score the minority 25% of people from other religions who are sweeping the religion out of a Christian holiday.
I asked my mother and father why Christmas greeting signs no longer say “Merry Christmas.”
My mother replied with a touch of scorn, “That is because it is no longer politically correct, but I still wish people a Merry Christmas anyway.”
I still wish you a Merry Christmas, too.
Read more on Vagabond Journey about USA culture
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