I have serious problems with politically-correct speech.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for inclusive language. I prefer “humankind” to “mankind” and “people” to “men” – at least when you actually mean people, and not just men – because it’s clear and inclusive. But sometimes things just get plain silly.
The policy in Ontario is now to use the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas”, and this year that’s made a huge ruckus in Thessalon. See, the annual concert at the public school is being called a holiday concert this year, instead of a Christmas one.
I don’t think it would be as big a problem for Thessalonians if Thessalon were actually a religiously diverse community. We have five churches and a practicing Buddhist group. As far as I know, there’s nobody Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or pretty much anything else around here. Okay, there’s me – I’m a practicing pagan, but we’re pretty tolerant of others’ faiths, and anyway I like Christmas carols.
The fact is that whatever you call it, the winter festival that’s celebrated here is Christmas, and you can tell from the way it’s done. Are people building bonfires on the 21st of December to welcome the sun back? No, they are not. Do they hang up their stockings for the Hogfather on Hogswatch Eve (also the evening of the Solstice)? Nope. Are there menorahs in the windows of houses in Thessalon? Not that I’ve seen. The decorations are all the usual suspects – snowmen, Santa Clauses, wreaths, angels, trees, stars and the occasional crêche. If anyone has Diwali decorations or a Kwanzaa tree up, it’s not apparent.
I worry that so-called inclusive language is, in practice, exclusive. I wish people Merry Christmas – that’s the social holiday that’s celebrated in Canada, broadly speaking, and for most of the people I meet it’s also the religious one. If someone were to say to me “and a Happy Hanukkah (or maybe ‘Divine Diwali’) to you!”, I’d be delighted, not insulted. But that insipid white-bread-with-margarine “Happy Holidays!” doesn’t tell me anything about the person saying it, except that they’re busy trying not to be offensive. And it leaves out all the interesting stuff, the chance to ask – since someone said “Joyous Kwanzaa!” – just what that holiday is about, what its decorations and delights are.
I know that there are all sorts of winter festivals. One friend of mine writes “Sol Invictus” on the card he sends this time of year. Some of my friends wish me a good solstice, some a merry Christmas. I’ll take one of each, please – celebration is good, and the more the merrier, whether it’s Solstice, Christmas or whatever.
I just wish that we were more concerned with actually learning about each others’ festivals, and not about making them all into one homogeneous, anonymous, get-it-cheaper-at-Walmart “holiday”. In this case, politically correct language isn’t inclusive – it’s exclusive. It locks me out of knowing about you, and you about me. It doesn’t bring all the festivals together – it suppresses them, instead.
In the interests of mutual respect and joy, I’d strongly suggest that if you have a holiday you celebrate, you wish people a happy one. If you get “Merry Christmas” and can give a “Divine Diwali” in return, everybody gets something new. I think that’s a pretty good gift.
Happy Hogswatch, good Solstice and Merry Christmas to you, and a happy 2012 to come.