Finding just the right words for the season

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Rev. Walter Klockers

Around this time of year, many people express good wishes to those they encounter – family, close friends, acquaintances, even to strangers they meet on the street.

At a tender young age, I only knew two such greetings. They were “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.”

As I grew older, and my worldview began to expand a bit more, I was surprised to learn that not everyone welcomed my well-intended words.

Some folks were of a different religious expression, so “Christmas” was out of the equation for them. Others only would accept a statement made about their ethnicity and heritage that was not religious. Some were agnostic or atheist. They voiced outright disdain for anything that was religious in nature.

Wow, I never imagined that things could get so complicated. It made me afraid to even open my mouth and say anything at all. I found this to be a sad commentary on our society.

I don’t understand why we have such difficulty in celebrating our differences. Why do we find reason to snuff out anything that does not agree with our point of view? I wish that people could be more emotionally mature about it instead of having a need to express self-righteous, knee-jerk hostility.

There is a clergy colleague of mine who also graduated from the same high school (Port Townsend). She is the Reverend Julie Kanarr. I love the way she has dealt with this issue of seasonal “manufactured outrage” and its “weaponization.” In fact, it was her ideas that prompted me to write this article.

Julie illustrates just what she means by use of a flow chart. It has been floating around the internet, uncredited, for quite some time, so it is not Julie’s creation. The point it makes is that our seasonal expressions will differ, but why not simply be gracious and accept it from the giver?

Here’s basically what the chart says: “If someone wishes you ‘Merry Christmas (Christian greeting),’or ‘Happy Hanukkah (Jewish),’ or ‘Happy Kwanzaa (African-American),’ or ‘Feliz Navidad (Hispanic),’ or ‘Happy Holidays (secular),’ or ‘Happy New Year (secular),’” and the expression given is not what you would ordinarily say, be gracious. “You say, ‘Thank you. You too.’

“Because, honestly, if you can’t see past the wish of the words of good intent, then it’s not the well-wisher who is broken, it’s you.

“Be a good human. Wish someone well this holiday season. Use whatever expression you’d like.”

Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.

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