Labeled part of a “War on Christmas,” the redesigned plain red Starbucks cup stirred up great controversy this winter. Differing from its usual featured snowflakes, reindeer and other Christmas-themed illustrations, Starbucks decided to remove all Christian references from the cup.
Since this incident, I have noticed an increase in efforts to promote the inclusion of other traditions and celebrations during the December holiday season. On December 25, I saw a great number of signs and decorations in Seoul, Korea, with the words “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” I was surprised to see a similar trend in TV advertisements, Christian-themed Facebook posts and Christmas-related shop signs that I usually see in Seoul. I was also shocked to see that, in general, many people I knew praised the bright lights in department stores that said “Happy Holidays” without a trace of Christmas references.
The phrase “Happy Holidays,” however, is not an effective way to respect different traditions. Taking the place of phrases such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy Holidays” as an umbrella phrase oversimplifies the diversity of the holidays and ironically erases the cultures of others.
Instead of using the general term “Happy Holidays,” we should encourage each other to share and learn about specific cultural holidays. Accepting and educating ourselves about these distinct traditions will allow us to truly appreciate the range of cultures that we encounter at a diverse place like Andover.
To better promote inclusion on our campus in the winter, banners and decorations of various religious customs could be hung up in Paresky Commons, Borden Gym and outside the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. This way, students and faculty will learn more about each other’s unique cultures and be encouraged to do further research themselves to gain a deeper understanding of various celebrations.
Student representatives could also go on stage during All-School Meeting to talk about their specific traditions and unique aspects of their holiday celebrations. Students could wear traditional clothing, show pictures, provide samples of food and bring items that are special to them in regard to their celebrations. In this way, we would have a designated space to learn about the unique cultures in our community.
Furthermore, we could group students during dorm and Cluster meetings to share their experiences with their religious holidays in a more personal setting. This would create an intimate space for students to comfortably discuss their celebrations.
Ultimately, these three solutions all share the common goal of learning about different cultures in more detail rather than using the general term “Happy Holidays.” In order to truly take advantage of Andover’s incredible diversity, we must discover and appreciate the unique aspects of each cultural celebration – by first addressing each holiday by name.