Please Stop Saying 'Happy Holidays'  


Toronto Star
Sunday, December 19, 1999

It's called Christmas and even in Pakistan it's time to be Merry

I'M EN ROUTE to Pakistan for a quick visit to the land of my birth - a short and sweet winter getaway from work, home and the rat race.

I know that on my return, Canada will have been transformed into a hyperactive buzz of Christmas shopping, Christmas partying, dreaming of a white Christmas.

But many Canadians will be too politically correct to actually say, "Merry Christmas."

On the flight, I'm reflecting on the recent military coup in Pakistan, but I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the Pakistani magazine I'm reading is more interested in Christmas.

This edition of Humsafar, the Pakistan International Airline in-flight magazine, boasts a colourful cover collage of a Christmas tree, ornaments, gifts and food.

Inside, there are interviews with members of Pakistan's Christian community on how they celebrate Christmas and a description of the spirit of Christmas - what it means in both religious and secular terms, the spiritual and commercial aspects of the celebration.

A day later, I'm in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

My niece presents me with a red-and-green outfit - I love bright colours - "to wear to your Christmas party."

We go out to dinner at a restaurant that is decorated with a Christmas tree and lights. The owner has just returned from a visit to Canada and we get into a discussion.

"Nice people," he says, "but very mixed up."

I rush to the defence of my countrymen, then stop and realize that, in a way, he's right.

I travel on to Karachi, where hotels are advertising their "Merry Christmas"

specials in large, bold letters.

They'll offer halal turkey - prepared according to Islamic dietary laws - for those who might be interested only in the food and not the faith. There will be Christmas pudding without alcohol and non-alcoholic egg nog.

Grocery stores are packed with the goodies it takes to make Christmas fare and the decorations are to die for.

In short, Pakistan is celebrating Christmas with gusto - minus the mistletoe, since Pakistanis draw a line at kissing en masse.

And they're not getting into a dither about calling it "Happy Holidays," either. I find it all refreshing and thought-provoking.

Karachi is a shopper's delight and so I start shopping . . . for Christmas gifts, of course.

I buy ornaments, angels with ethnic adornments, a silver cross for a religiously oriented friend, secular gifts for the not-so-religious, beautiful Christmas and Eid cards, more outfits in Christmas colours.

As usual, I go totally overboard and some eyebrows are raised in my family over my enthusiasm.

"You obviously don't get a chance to celebrate your own festival in Canada, which is why you are so involved in Christmas," they say.

I tell them that Canadians are fortunate to be able to celebrate anything we wish - that's how liberal we are - but maybe we're a bit too nice.

In order to accommodate diverse religions and cultures, I say, we have stopped wishing each other "Merry Christmas" and instead say, "Happy Holidays."

My family laughs and agrees that this sounds like wishing for someone to take a pleasant vacation.

On my return to Canada, I'm still thinking about my Christmas-in-Pakistan experience.

My office staff has been kind enough to schedule the office party before the start of Ramadan, but in my absence, they decided to call it a "Holiday" party.

I make it quite clear that I don't like "Happy Holidays." I love getting into the spirit of the season, wishing people a "Merry Christmas."

Even if they don't celebrate Christmas, it's not an offence to wish someone would be merry. It's a happy thought.

And I believe that participating in the spirit of the season doesn't compromise anyone's faith - it makes us better human beings.

I decorate my office, wear my red-and-green outfit, hum a bit of "Jingle Bells" and try to encourage people to just go with the feel of the season and wish each other a very "Merry Christmas."

When Ramadan starts, I take time to explain it to those who seem curious. And I tell them that we Muslims would love to be wished "Ramadan Mubarak."

My multicultural calendar tells me that this is also the season of Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Hogmany, as well as the feasts of St. Nicholas and St. Lucia and several other special days.

And I'd like to wish everyone happiness for each one of these feasts, individually and distinctly. In essence, all these celebrations are about spirituality - about sharing and caring, loving and giving, tolerance and respect.

My worst fear is that if we don't watch this political-correctness bit, we may end up saying, "We wish you a happy whatever-it-is-you-celebrate."

So, before that happens, let me wish joy to the world, peace and goodwill and a Merry Christmas to all.

opyright 1999 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.



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