Like everyone else, I suppose, I receive unwanted advertisements by e-mail; of late, with the approach of Christmas, the advertisers have wished me, ‘Happy Holidays,’ addressing me by name.
The combination of personal tone and impersonal means strikes me as sinister. It makes me feel as if I am some kind of game bird under the observation of a gamekeeper, waiting to be shot, plucked and trussed.
Even worse, of course, is the locution ‘Happy Holidays.’ The justification for the avoidance of all reference to Christmas would no doubt be that we now live in a multi-religious society and it is important to avoid giving offence to adherents of a minority religion. This is absurd, of course, as well as dishonest: I know of no Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Sikh or Confucian who would object to being wished a Merry Christmas: and if I did, I would tell him not to be so silly.
Whose intolerance, exactly, is being appeased by the wretched locution? Not that of the religious: in the town in which I live, the Moslem-owned Indian restaurants are festooned with Christmas decorations, and the staff hand round little presents to the regular customers and wish them a Merry Christmas. The notion that every person with the slightest religious faith is a fanatic waiting to explode with rage at the first indication that someone else has a different tradition or believes something different from him is absurd.
The people appeased by ‘Happy Holidays’ are not ordinary secularists, that is to say those people who do not want to live in a theocracy or see jobs allocated according to a religious test, but the new breed of militant atheist, who would probably prefer the winter holiday season (if we really must have one at all) moved to a date such as February 12, the date of Darwin’s birth. We could then all wish each other ‘Merry Evolution & a Happy New Species,’ and send out Evolution cards with maps of our own genome. This would serve simultaneously to satisfy or reconcile our need to be both rational and egotistical.
Far from being a sign of superior sensitivity, the locution ‘Happy Holidays’ is a sign of an increasing intellectual shrillness and intolerance. In genuinely cosmopolitan societies people could unselfconsciously participate in the festivals of others without having to subscribe to any of their beliefs. The militant atheists want doctrinal purity, with practice consistent with doctrine.
First published in Salisbury Review.