I’ve read a few pieces over the last week or so about why North Americans are torn by the phrase “Merry Christmas”, many preferring “Happy Holidays”. Yet the latter has never remotely caught on in the British Isles.
The most compelling reason given for this is that where the North Americans (particularly in the United States) have retained “Christmas” as very much being exclusively for “Christians”, the British and Irish have turned it into a broader festival which can be celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike (while ensuring that Christians themselves do not lose the aspects of it that are genuinely important and exclusive to them). Thus it is perfectly appropriate in the British Isles to wish someone “Merry Christmas” without that implying an assumption that the recipient of the greeting is Christian.
It strikes me, honestly, that the British and Irish have this right. So as a quick thought (maybe to be turned to in more detail in the New Year), how do we make festivals and leisure activities which are currently deemed specific to one group less specific to that group? How do we make currently exclusive events and sports inclusive, without losing their original meaning for those to whom that meaning is important? Perhaps that is really the question Richard Haass should have been asking?
Like I say, just a quick thought for now – whatever your religious view, here’s wishing you and yours a merry Christmas, god Jul, Nollaig Shona, frohe Weihnachten, feliz navidad and indeed vrolijk Kerstfeest.