Merry ... umm ... Christmas? -

Merry … umm … Christmas?

Saying goodbye can be tricky at this time of year.


Cape Breton may be the last place in the country where people unabashedly wish you a Merry Christmas at this time of year. Not Happy Holidays, I mean, but actual, full-throated, unironic, “Merry Christmas.”

I hear it a lot at the university because December exams (Christmas exams as we say at CBU, though they do not feel like a gift to the students or the faculty) because the end of the examination period quite clearly marks the last time we will see each other, at least until January, depending on the course. After ten years, it still makes me a bit uncomfortable.

When I was a student in Ontario, I made a point of not saying “Merry Christmas” to my professors because I usually did not know them well enough to presume that they did celebrate Christmas, and I did not want to cause offense. So I usually said, “have a good holiday” which worked for people celebrating Hannukah or Christmas or whatever, but could also be taken to meant the time off between semesters.

My students seem to have no such compunctions, and every time I hear them say “Merry Christmas,” I wonder if they have considered whether I might be, for instance, Jewish. And if I were, wouldn’t “Merry Christmas” be a bit insensitive? I’m pretty sure that they don’t think about that, and if they did, I’m pretty sure they would reply that they wouldn’t be offended by “Happy Hanukkah.” But that’s only because most of us here in Cape Breton are Christians or (like me) descended from those who were. “Happy Hanukkah” doesn’t bother us, because we have never felt marginalized by the domination of Hanukkah in December, or by the domination (and oppression) of Christian culture in general. I wonder how my Jewish colleagues feel about this.

And this is to say nothing of other groups who do not celebrate Christmas such as Muslims, and, perhaps surprisingly, some Christians. As it happens, I do celebrate Christmas as a winter festival, but it makes me uncomfortable when students assume that I do, because I feel like they are making me part of that in-group where it is assumed that everyone has the same values and traditions.

What should you say to your prof as you leave the exam room? Something friendly. “Have a nice break,” or “see you next semester,” or steal my “good holiday” line.

Just not “Merry Christmas.”


Merry … umm … Christmas?

  1. This is overanalysis and politcal correctness for the sake of political correctness. I wish my professors a “Merry Christmas” at the end of exams.

    If thay are Christian fine, no harm done. If not, I would hope that they would accept the comment for the spirit of kindness in which it is made.

    Most professors are sufficiently clever to understand the intention behind such a comment.

  2. I’m with you on this one, Todd. For me, the implication of “Merry Christmas” is “Have fun celebrating MY religious festival.”

    Cape Breton’s isolation doesn’t seem like an excuse; there have been residents of different faiths living here since the earliest days of colonization (to say nothing of the pre-missionary Mi’kmaq).

    Christmas was borrowed from the pagan Yule. Some Christmas carols still mention Yuletide. Can we start a “Cheery Yule” movement? At least it’s fun to say.

  3. “or by the domination (and oppression) of Christian culture in general”

    “and oppression”? assumptions of THAT sort are offensive. I’m fully aware of the Reforms, Crusades etc. but realize generalizations of that sort are intensly offensive.

    Having friends from many different backgrounds spiritually and culturally is important and vital. Moreover, being sentisitive to their traditions is crucial, which I think was the main point of your post. Realize that every generalizations of the sort “and oppressions” are inappropriate.

  4. I genuinely don’t see the point in getting offended because someone possibly could have offended you. Either you celebrate Christmas or you don’t. If you do, then there’s no issue, and if you don’t, you can correct the person with an “I don’t celebrate Christmas, but have a wonderful holiday” or accept the comment in the spirit in which it was clearly intended. People who celebrate Christmas shouldn’t be made to feel bad for wanting to spread the spirit of the holiday they celebrate. The vast, vast majority of people who wish you a merry Christmas are trying to be friendly and inclusive. I understand why people on the other side feel excluded by ever-expanding Christmas industry’s assault on consumers, but if someone is just trying to be nice? Suck it up.

  5. I have friends and neighbors of many religions. Among them are Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, Orthodox and Reform Jews, Buddhists, Zens, Zen Buddhists, Rastafarians, as well as agnostics and atheists. December is the time of year for Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, and other holidays. To limit my greeting to “Merry Christmas” would be to not be respectful of their beliefs. Happy Holidays!

  6. The vast majority of the people who wish you a “Merry Christmas” aren’t celebrating a religious festival. For them the holiday likely doesn’t have a religious connection. The point is that anyone can celebrate Christmas.
    Isn’t some culture is better than no culture? Feel free to wish me a happy Hannukah, Kwanza, etc. I understand the positive implications, and the cultural aspect doesn’t offend me. It’s Canada. We are supposed to allow cultures to exist, not destroy them. What you may not undestand is that part of this religious festival is spreading the Christmas spirit. If you prevent people from doing that, you are preventing that culture from existing freely and practising its traditions.

  7. This country has become way too politically correct. Anyone who is offended by someone wishing them a merry Christmas in a country where the winter season revolves around Christmas should be ashamed of themselves.

    In Canada, we celebrate Christmas every year just like we always have. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else.

  8. It has been said the, “In this country we celebrate Christmas”. This is a true statement only due to the fact that many of the people whom first settled this country did so to seek a better life and have the freedom to practice tier religion how ever they like.

    To say that “we celebrate Christmas in this country” is to be extremely myopic. This is a country of immigrants, unless you are an indigenous native, you and your family are immigrants like me.

    We should put the religion aside and instead celebrate the culture of all of the people that make up this country. We should be proud to be make up of Christians, Jews, Muslim, Hindi, and on and on.

    We need to stop walking on glass in this country. Suck it up and say hello to someone different from you, you may be surprised at what you learn.