Celebrating holidays in our own way — and allowing others to do the same

We are in the midst of what is commonly known as the holiday season. From the end of October to the middle of January, there are numerous special occasions celebrated. Some of these have deeply religious roots, while others have cultural, historical, or national origins. Not everyone celebrates all of them and no two people celebrate or experience any one of them in exactly the same way. We are free to celebrate our religious, cultural, historical, and national heritage. While this freedom guarantees us the right to have and practice our personal beliefs, it does not give us the right to impose our views on others or penalize those who do not share them. That is the foundation upon which this country is built.

The word “holiday” can be traced back to Old English. Holiday is a modern version of the word “haligdaeg,” which historically was reserved for referring to special religious days or “holy days.” Currently, the word holiday is used to indicate any period of time, from one day to several, set aside as a special occasion where we are not expected to go to work, attend school, or follow our ordinary routine. The occasion may or may not be religious in nature and can range from dates of national significance, such as the Fourth of July, to dates of personal significance, such as family vacations.

The generic term, holiday, lends itself to composing an inclusive greeting that acknowledges the festive atmosphere characterizing this time of year, while recognizing and respecting the diversity of celebrations that take place. A simple, “Happy Holidays,” allows the greeter to express his seasonal cheer without presuming the recipient is celebrating any specific occasion. Yet, this innocent salutation has been at the center of a divisive controversy for the past few years. As someone who associates this season with love, peace, hope, joy, and unity, I find this profoundly troubling.

The usual pleasure derived from preparing for seasonal festivities is marred by reports of ugly exchanges between adults over issues like coffee cup colors and designs. When adults start bickering over whose is the most important or the “real” holiday, I find myself wondering why they are so easily threatened? What difference does it make what or how other people celebrate? How does what others do or don’t do take away from their experience of the holidays? Is their celebration diminished by others celebrating differently or not at all? Are their beliefs invalid because others don’t share them?

The desperate need for others to profess the same beliefs and participate in the same practices in order to validate one’s own beliefs and practices suggests an underlying insecurity. If that is the case, perhaps what is needed is a reevaluation of the strength of their convictions.

If we value our freedom to believe and our right to practice those beliefs through our holiday celebrations, then we must extend that freedom to others. We can accept their right to believe and practice as they choose without having to agree with them, approve of them, or adopt those choices for ourselves.

While I am no expert on religion, I have read enough to know that one of the basic tenets of every major religion can be summarized in these words, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” It doesn’t say, “treat others the way you have been treated.” It says, treat others the way you would like to be treated. And there is no disclaimer in parentheses after this statement, in any of the holy texts, that says to do so only if others look like you, agree with you, or believe like you. Whatever holiday we celebrate, and however we choose to celebrate it, we must respect the right of others to celebrate theirs in their own way.

My son and daughter-by-love will be celebrating the holidays for the first time as a married couple this year. They stopped here to visit for a few days following their honeymoon. Before leaving, they asked to take some decorations from our collection to begin their own. How lovely to think of those ornaments adding holiday cheer to their new home. What an honor to be included in this unique way in their celebration as they begin creating their own traditions. Will they be celebrating in exactly the same way we will be celebrating? No. Does that mean they are being disloyal to the traditions they were raised with? No. Does that mean they have the right to think and choose for themselves? Yes!

As I mentioned before, we are in the midst of the holiday season. The season of giving. My gift to you is a song. One of my favorites from an album with John Denver and The Muppets called “A Christmas Together.” The song is titled “A Christmas Wish.” The basic message is this — if you believe in love, that is reason enough for us to celebrate together. If we truly believe in and practice love, that will be more than enough to make peace last throughout the coming year.

Carolyn Waterbury-Tieman is a resident of Lexington, Ky. She has been married for 29 years and has two sons. She spent 15 years in various agencies and clinics as a family therapist and parent educator and has written extensively on the topic of parenting. To contact her, please e-mail parent4life@yahoo.com.