Have we reached the point of absurdity in our race to be culturally sensitive? I ask in light of bureaucratic rule changes regarding Christmas celebrations and acceptable etiquette.
In the United States, the chancellor of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville encouraged employees to make sure their holiday celebrations do not resemble a Christmas party. His directive was issued from the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and outlined how to host a holiday party without promoting a specific type of culture or religion.
He wrote, “Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” His tips include avoiding games such as Secret Santa and being sensitive to other cultures by sending out non-denominational cards or tokens of gratitude.
He later tweeted: “We honor the celebration of Christmas. We also promote inclusivity of all cultures and religions.”
In Marlborough, New Hampshire, the American Legion was directed to remove the word Christmas from a flyer that was going to be sent home with elementary students. The local Legion commander has helped with the town’s annual tree lighting for approximately 15 years, but a problem arose this year when he tried to advise parents of the event. The school division superintendent said the word Christmas had to be eliminated from the flyer before it could be given to students. The Legion commander was asked to replace the term Christmas tree with holiday tree, so a white-out product was used to remove the offensive word on every flyer.
According to a Nov. 20 post on-line, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned employees at Salem, Virginia from wishing veterans a merry Christmas. The nonsense apparently began with a broader ban that was issued by the executive leadership team. Christmas trees, expressions and celebrations were banned from the office. An email that was sent out by senior staff stated public areas may only be decorated in a manner that celebrates the winter season. Displays must not promote any religion, and trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas. The administration later relented on their ruling about trees.
The communique also forbids using a religious expression unless it is uttered in a personal work area. In other words, an employee may be punished for saying merry Christmas to a veteran outside in a public area such as a lobby or entrance. It goes on to say that private religious speech can be banned if a manager decides such speech interferes with official duties and responsibilities. Christmas music was also banned since any music in a personal workspace must be secular (not-religious).
Such actions are not limited to the States. At home in Canada, large government agencies are heading in the same direction. I know of one federal department that last year banned employees from using the term “merry Christmas.” However, it was acceptable protocol to say “season’s greetings.” That term is now too insensitive or religious to be used, so employees were directed this year to use the word “joy” when wishing their co-workers well in the Christmas season.
My wife noticed the satellite channel that was titled Yultide Fireplace has this year been changed to Fireplace. I wonder if loggers or woodcutters are offended at the video images which give the illusion of a fireplace in a living room, but cannot capture the warmth and good feeling associated with the real thing. I read somewhere that multiculturalism in Canada is a dismal failure when it’s inappropriate to wish someone a merry Christmas. I believe that statement is absolutely true.
At the international level, even the Pope got involved this year when he called Christmas celebrations a “charade” because of increased fighting and warfare across the Middle East.
He made the bold statement at a November mass in Rome saying, “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes — all decked out — while the world continues to wage war. It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace.”
It seems to me that the way Christmas greetings and celebrations are being approached by government is a charade, especially in light of the holiday’s origins and the holiday’s modern meaning. Are people (especially immigrants) lacking self esteem and acceptance to the point that a Christmas greeting will be misconstrued as offensive? I don’t think so.
For people who may not know, a Christmas greeting is not meant to cause offense – it’s a goodwill gesture. Furthermore, the majority of people who wish someone a merry Christmas are simply saying, “Hope you have a great holiday and enjoy it in the company of family and friends if possible.” What could be more appropriate than that?
Perhaps it’s time for a name change that will eliminate the religiosity of Christmas greetings. After a person says it a few times, “merry mass” sounds pretty good. It’s shorter than the traditional greeting, rather catchy and so much better than the word “joy.” Plus, the thought formed in my head which also makes the greeting totally Canadian! What could be better?