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Monday, 12 December 2011

Do you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays"?

 Welcome! in case you have stumbled into my blog, you are reading BEYOND THE BLUE DOMES.  I am a "Baby-Boomer" born and raised in Iran and my topics range from my memories growing up in Iran to homeless community in Santa Monica and beyond.  My theme is social realities and preserving the history. I'd like to connect with people around the world that share the same passion. I appreciate your comments; you may contact me by email: or just leave a comment on my blog. (it's easy if you have a gmail account)

“Happy Festivus,” is a phrase taken from a “Seinfeld’s” episode of 1997.  It seems the observation of "Festivus" is creeping into the Pop culture.  Maybe it’s time to use the phrase more often.

While I was growing up in Tehran, America was my dream world. I imagined it as a society where everybody was welcomed, people were open-minded and family life was so organized and structured.

Today, my vision has changed. I can see all of the cultural and racial issues in America.  Sometimes I wonder in a nation of immigrants, in a society that ethnic diversity is growing by leaps and bounds, why there should be an argument over saying “Happy Holidays?”

          The following is a personal account about memories of celebrating Christmas and dealing with the controversial issue of saying “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas.”

  I have written the following piece while back in 2007.

Season’s Greetings...
It is the Holiday Season again. This year it will be the first celebration of Christmas since my father passed away a year ago at the age of ninety-one.  While, I was taking out the decorations and preparing the house for an upcoming Holiday party, I remembered how Dad even though he had slowed down because of his old age, still enjoyed giving me a hand.   He offered his support in small ways. He would pick up the tiny pink flowers from outside Jade plants to use as decoration or he would help me to wrap the gifts, or hold the ladder while I was trying to hang a wreath or a garland. This year, I picked up the pink flowers from Jade plants myself, and I missed him dearly.   We had a special father and daughter relationship.
I have countless memories of celebrating Christmas in Iran. Today I want to reflect on one. One of my favorite traditions for Christmas was sending and receiving greeting cards.  I was fascinated with the array of designs and texts. I would spent hours standing in the isles of stationery stores, and read and re-read the texts, admire the pictures and examine the fonts and finally choose the appropriate card to send to a relative who lived in the United States.
I had self-appointed myself to be the designated purchaser of our family’s greeting Cards.  Before me it was Dad who bought the greeting cards and Mom as judgmental as she was, didn’t approve of his taste, because Dad preferred to send greeting cards with Persian miniature motifs, and Mom didn’t like that at all, and I followed suit.  But now, after living in America for thirty years and having seen all the designs with their “cliché” texts, I would definitely prefer receiving a card from a foreign country with their own original art rather than the norm that we have it here. 
I have come to the conclusion that Dad was right in choosing greeting cards with Persian miniatures rather than the American-made cards.  One year, for a change, I ordered hand painted greeting cards with illustration from Omar Khayam’s (Persian poet) Love scenes and I got such a good response from everybody.
          In Tehran there were a few stationery shops where we could buy American-made greeting cards.  They carried "Hallmark", "Gibson" and "Rust Craft" brands.  We usually received around 20 cards, which I meticulously displayed on a small table next to the Christmas tree. 
I remember once I asked Dad why some of the greeting cards say: "Season's Greetings."  At the time I could read and understand English but I couldn't figure out what the phrase meant.  Dad explained and said, "They say Season's Greetings because there are many different ethnic groups in America whose holidays occur during the same time as Jesus' birth."  His explanation made sense to me. However, today, after fifty years, here in America, the land of the free, it is strange to see a controversy over saying “Happy Holidays.”
While I was growing up, America was my dream world.  I imagined it as a welcoming society where people were so open minded and life was so organized. I was envisioning the American life by the snapshots we received from families and the American TV shows we watched. 
My aunt Gohar, Dad’s cousin, who was living in America used to sent the most unusual and creative Christmas cards. I still remember one card that she had sent us, over forty years ago.  It was a pop-up card. When you opened it, Santa Claus would pop, pitching a snowball – the ball was connected with a wire to Santa’s hand. I thought it was ingenious. 
I also remember a black & white picture received from aunt Gohar.  It was taken in the late 50s, on one Christmas morning where the whole family was wearing the same Christmas pattern pajamas.  I often think of that picture and ask myself was aunt Gohar that organized?  Now, that I have raised my own family in America, I realize what a difficult arrangement it must have been to take the perfect picture of the whole family – one girl and three boys – while opening the Christmas presents.

Today, I see America from another lens.  I see all the cultural and racial issues.  I also see the controversy surrounding the acknowledgment of saying “Happy Holidays.”  I wonder why in an increasingly, religiously diversified society such as America, a nation of immigrants, why there should be an argument over calling “Happy Holidays?”  I remember my Dad when he explained to me why they say “Season’s Greetings.” 
I feel that the commercialized celebration of Christmas is creating division among different segments of the community.  Every year the frantic rush to celebrate Christmas is getting bigger and bigger.  Every year we see a new kind of Christmas decoration.  Within the last few years we have witnessed the appearance of the gigantic inflated figures of snowmen, Santas or penguins.  What would be next?
          In Iran, we, Armenians celebrated Christmas on January 6th. Santa Claus came at New Year's Eve not Christmas.  All the hoopla, the gift giving, the decorations were for celebrating the New Year not Christmas. That would have been so much better, if, here in the "West", Santa would come for the New Year instead of Christmas. Then all children from every religion could enjoy the charm of Santa Claus.  In reality, what does Santa Claus have to do with the birth of Jesus?  It is evident that Western societies have adopted many of the Christian symbolisms from pagan traditions pre-dating the birth of Christ. 
Some scholars believe that Jesus was born during spring.  Other studies reveal that the date December 25th is borrowed from the pagan celebration of winter solstice or the birth of Mitra the son of Sun God who was born on December 25th.  A quick search on the Internet will reveal that Mitra same as Jesus was from a virgin mother. His birth was attended by three wise men from the East and his birth was foretold by sighting a star.  He performed miracles.  He was tortured and put to death.  He was buried in a stone cave.  He was resurrected after 3 days.
          The following is an excerpt from a poem by Mattie Stepanek, who died on June 22, 2004, just three weeks before his 14th birthday. Mattie who suffered from muscular dystrophy will be remembered as a poet, a peacemaker and a philosopher in his own rite.  I have chosen this poem because it is close to my heart.  It says: Perhaps, during this holiday season we could let aside our differences and become one voice.
 Perhaps, We Could...
Let the season be the reason
To dispel all
Hate and fear.
Let each reason for our season
Unite us
In one voice.
Let this season be
Our reason to make
Hope and peace our choice.

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