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USA Culture is Cult of the Minority

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 [...]

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.

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Wade from www.VagabondJourney.com
Western New York, USA, December 27, 2009
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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.

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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.

Christmas shopping

Christmas shopping

Read more on Vagabond Journey about USA culture
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Filed under: Celebrations, Current Events, Religion

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

13 comments… add one

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  • Bob L December 28, 2009, 2:48 pm

    ***Like wishing a Muslim “Merry Christmas” in America.***

    I do this. I work with a few Muslims and a few Jewish folk. I wish them all Merry Christmas. They do the same back. It is implied that you are wishing them good will, and blessings in whatever religion, if any, they may practice. I have been greeted with Happy Chanukah at times in the past when I was in an area where it would be assumed that I was Jewish (with a family of Jews). I certainly did not take offense. I have done the same to Jewish people, although I don’t know if wishing someone a happy Chanukah is appropriate. I have wished Muslims happy Ramadan, although I do not know if that is proper either. They know I mean well. If I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they become offended, I have to assume they like being offended.

    ***It is my impression that it is Christians trying to be open minded and polite who no longer use the term “Merry Christmas.”***

    In MY small world, it is NOT Christians trying to be open minded who do not say this. All the practicing Christians I know say Merry Christmas. It is the non-practicing people who feel they must not say Merry Christmas.

    It is very obvious to you because you have not spent Christmas in the US in a while. We have been seeing this for years, and lately, more and more people are revolting against this practice. (Frankly, I think most humans are revolting, especially old men in speedo’s) Uhh, where was I? Oh, yeah. This practice of not saying M-C seems to have started with towns and cities, then spread to businesses. People would complain or even sue the towns to get a nativity scene removed from public property. They mis-read the statement in our laws/culture about separation of church and state. They believe that the Government should never mention Christ. This country was established by people who followed Christian beliefs or at least Christian concepts of right and wrong and good and bad (I am not excluding the Jewish faith here, after all, Christ was one of theirs). The concern the founders had was that the Government should not be controlled by any one religion, as it was in England. Remember, the only significant religions that were in the US at the time of it’s founding were either Christian or Jewish.

    A ways back there were a few towns that tried to cater to ALL religions, but more and more of them showed up demanding their own display. Christian related, Wicca, Devil Worshipers, you name it.

    But, I agree with you, political correctness is making things worse, not better. Everything a person says can be taken to be racist, offensive or something to someone. As such, it is often better to just not say anything to anyone that you don’t know.

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 1, 2010, 11:11 am

      Hello Bob,

      As usual, you filled in the gaps in this entry. I believe your analysis and interpretation of this phenomenon are right on. I also think that your approach is a good and honest one.

      If someone is offended by your culture, then they have the problem — and this is OK, people have problems all the time. If someone pretends to be offended for somebody else (the tenants of PC), then I have the problem because this person is trying to impose himself upon me.

      Thanks Bob!

      Walk Slow,

      Wade

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  • Bob L December 28, 2009, 3:05 pm

    Then there is this Joke Relative to Christmas Parties:

    http://www.funny2.com/companychristmasparty.htm

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  • Andy HoboTraveler.com December 29, 2009, 6:56 am

    Great rant, Wade I believe it is highly dysfunctional to modify your own culture to adapt to another. Say Merry Christmas, only a dysfunctional nut would get angry a good intentions.

    I have no respect for people who suck up to me, respect yes, they do not need to agree, however I demand respect at the risk of losing respect for myself.

    I will aLways encourage writers to not pander to the audience, they forfeit pride and dignity.

    Andy Graham of HoboTraveler.com

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 1, 2010, 11:07 am

      Andy,

      I imagine that it would be pretty politically incorrect to tell an Indian in the USA not to act like an Indian, and I, too, unbashfully act as an American (or how I was raised to be one) wherever I go. The last thing I would ever want would be for another person from another culture to try to act like me, so I feel I owe them the same respect.

      “I will aLways encourage writers to not pander to the audience, they forfeit pride and dignity.”

      This is what makes you a good writer.

      Walk Slow,

      Wade

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  • Dana December 29, 2009, 8:02 pm

    Hey Wade! As a practising pagan, my issues with the ‘De-Christing’ of Christmas isn’t so much the political correct aspect of it, but the removal of TRUE meaning from holidays to the point where all that’s left is meaningless commercialization.

    Culture is forever evolving, as evidenced by the original Solstice rites that were usurped by Christianity and later by Coca Cola’s imagery of Santa Claus (derived from European SinterKlaas). I guess the question now is, in a world that is forever losing its cultural identity through globlization and technological assimilation— will those who attribute actual meaning to holidays soon be the minority.

    (p.s– MERRY BELATED CHRISTMAS AND HAVE A WONDERFUL NEW YEAR!)

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 1, 2010, 10:57 am

      Right on Dana,

      I suppose this is also part of my reaction to this as well. I don’t really give a shit if people say Merry Christmas or not, but I do find it appalling that the basis of the Christmas holiday is being removed from the celebration — whether that basis is Christan, Pagan, or whatever. A holiday without roots is just a way to sell products.

      But I suppose this is our culture, and keeps in tune with our times. I do think that the people who believe in anything other than capital will soon be in the minority, and that Christmas has the potential of becoming a social holiday rather than a religious one.

      As old cultural roots are severed, new ones are planted. I suppose my petty value judgments are irrelevant, though I do say “Merry Christmas” because that is what I learned growing up, and that is what I will pass on.

      Thanks!

      Wade

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  • Emery December 29, 2009, 10:48 pm

    I’m with you on all this, Wade. I like to talk to people about their differences in religion, culture, etc. I like these things to be out in the open, so we can learn from each other. And I don’t think people should tip-toe around their differences in fear of offending insecure people.

    On the other hand, I have felt a little put upon by my company’s CEO at our annual “holiday” party when he would get up and wish everybody a Merry Christmas, qualifying the exclamation by saying he wasn’t ashamed to say it. Instead of coming off as joyful, loving and sincere, he comes across as defensive, negative and posturing, like he’s trying to make some sort of political statement. I’ve seen a lot of people spouting this kind of back-handed Merry Christmas, and it just seems wrong to me.

    I understand that the annoyance of political correctness has put Christians on the defense. But it bothers me that people become insecure and annoying with an equal and opposite reaction. Wish me a Merry Christmas, by all means. But don’t apologize. Embrace the love not the hate.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 1, 2010, 10:42 am

      Emery,

      You bring up an interesting point. It is one think to naturally wish people a holiday greeting, it is another to do so with an ulterior intention. It is interesting how waves of culture smash up against themselves. The interesting thing here is that, as Bob said, it is not really the church going Christians or non-Christians who are displaying over sensitivities about “Merry Christmas” but the non church going people born in traditionally Christian homes — The PC police. It is interesting to see the backlash that political correctness causes in all directions.

      Thanks,

      Wade

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  • Bob L January 2, 2010, 9:28 am

    *though I do say “Merry Christmas” because that is what I learned growing up, and that is what I will pass on.*

    I would be interested in seeing how you teach faith to Petra as she grows up. In the admitedly few families that I have known that were mixed Christian, Jewish faiths, raising a child seemed to bring the parents closer to their own faiths, and the child seemed to grow up with more tolerance and understanding of other’s beliefs.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 6, 2010, 2:16 pm

      Hello Bob,

      I think Petra is going to be so swapped about and mixed up that it will not matter too much what we teach her — she will probably just shun it anyway for some odd conglomerated traveler faith anyway. But, for the record, it is my impression that Chaya is raising her Jewish.

      Thanks,

      Wade

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  • skip k January 23, 2010, 9:37 pm

    being respectful to others is not an issue of being politically correct. it’s simply being decent and nice. there was a time when black american men could be called a boy. try that today and you’ll see if it’s politically correct or not. things change, get used to it. wish merry christmas to people you know. the rest of us will push back.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com January 30, 2010, 12:53 am

      It is not my impression that wishing someone a Merry Christmas is a belittling statement. It is a holiday greeting offered with generally good intentions. Why would you want to push back against this?

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