Kirsten Mustain

There are a lot of problems in the world – a lot of injustices and abuses and suffering – enough for each and every one of us to have our fair share.

And that is why one has to wonder about people who are offended by Christmas greetings.

Now I am all for being politically correct. I don’t like to make people feel offended or uncomfortable or underappreciated or misunderstood. I certainly never want to discriminate against anyone because of his or her gender, color, religion, ugly hat, diet, or shoe size.

But there is such a thing as being overzealous.

It’s the holiday season, a time when people are called to reflect on love and giving, yet many people are simply spoiling for a squabble and apparently anything will do.

Now I understand that there are some Americans who get tired of people assuming they are Christians. And I know that there are other Americans who are proud to be Christian and figure that, being Americans, they have a right to say what they want to say.

Both sides have their points.

Language has been proven to reinforce certain prejudices in people’s minds.

However, the simple phrase “Merry Christmas” just doesn’t carry the same sentiment that phrases like, “filthy wop,” “lunatic infidel,” “unwashed pagan,” or “believe what I believe or I will slice your head off with a sword.”

Actually, when most people say, “Merry Christmas,” they are simply expressing their wish that whomever they are addressing will find joy and comfort during our national holiday, which is, after all, commonly called “Christmas.”

Why should anyone find that offensive?

The courteous and appropriate response to such wishes is, “Thanks, you too.”

That is precisely what I, as a Christian, would say if anyone wished me a “Happy Hanukah,” a “Lovely Kwanza,” or a “Groovy Solstice.”

At any rate, it seems to me that ire and offense are better saved for those things in life that are truly and deeply wrong. Starving children, war, violence, cruelty, neglect and hatred come to mind.

When I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, there was a phrase that a lot of the native population used to express amazement and/or dismay. “Eeee allah!” they would say, eyebrows arched, hands thrown in the air.

Being the erstwhile word geek that I am, I wanted to know where this interesting phraseology could have possibly originated.

After a little research, I discovered that it is basically the Muslim equivalent of saying, “Oh dear God!”

Oddly, most native Santa Fe residents are Catholics. But here is an interesting historical fact:  the phrase was a carry-over from Spanish immigrants who came to the New World in the 1500s.

They learned it from the Moors who occupied Spain off and on between 711 and 1492. And so language endures and changes over the ages. None of Catholics who use that phrase now have anything to do with the Muslim religion.

 People should say what they want to say without worry or recrimination. If “Happy Holidays” is your preference, then say it. If “Merry Christmas” floats your boat, keep floating. Just say something nice, for heaven’s sake. It’s the Christmas season and people are glum enough as it is.

And when someone says something nice to you, say something nice back. “Thanks!” or “Great hat!” or “Keep warm in this cold weather!” will do.

My Christmas wish is that everyone would lead with the love and tolerance that this holiday’s namesake would have wished.