Friday, December 20, 2013


Seven years ago, when I decided to stay in the United States longer than previously planned, I was well aware that the country came in one package, so to speak: While there were plenty of things that I admired about the American way of life, there were also things I considered strange. Take, for example, the holidays:

I was born and raised in Czech Republic and therefore Thanksgiving, an exclusively American holiday, was an unknown concept to me. So was Halloween, for that matter. But while I became very fond of Halloween and has been enthusiastically celebrating it ever since, I never fully warmed up to Thanksgiving. Why should I? I don’t care much for the heavy holiday food (with one notable exception, which is homemade cranberry sauce) and the fact that it’s “a wonderful opportunity to spend time with one’s family” leaves me unimpressed, because I don’t HAVE a family here and even if I did, the time spent with most of them would not be what I would classify as wonderful. To me, Thanksgiving simply doesn’t have much to offer. And after I learned about WHY Americans celebrated Thanksgiving in the first place, I felt slightly nauseated: The Native Americans, who brought all the goodies to the Pilgrims, had no clue that as a culture, they will pay for it in the future by  having genocide committed on them. So when it comes to Thanksgiving, the way I see it is: Thanks, but no thanks!

Yet every year everywhere I go, people wish me “happy Thanksgiving” – including those who know perfectly well that I’m a foreigner who didn’t grow up in the United States. Friends never want to understand that no, I don’t mind being alone on Thanksgiving, because this holiday doesn’t mean a damned thing to me and I would much prefer to spend the Thanksgiving break holed up at home with my books and my computer. (If you have homemade cranberry sauce in your house, however, I will take leftovers). And this is the moment that brings us to the point of today’s column:

Do you know what I say to all those ignorant Americans, who are insulting my different cultural background and my values by wishing me happy holiday that not only I don’t celebrate but downright despise for its hypocrisy?!


In fact, I usually smile back and say “happy Thanksgiving” as well. Because when I made a decision to stay in this country all those years ago, I automatically made a decision to become a part of a new culture that will inevitably have different customs and traditions than those I was used to, and you know what? That was okay with me. If I were emotionally too fragile to handle that things in a different country might be, well, different, I would have done better staying safely in Czech Republic.

Some of you might already suspect that I’m responding to the politically correct movement that has declared it almost a crime to say “merry Christmas” to people in the United States. From some of the discussions we were having in my counseling program during past year I gathered that in near future public Christmas decorations will become illegal and folks will secretly meet in each other’s basement to sing Christmas carols. Because, you know, to people of different faith and cultural/ethnic backgrounds it’s SO insulting seeing Santa everywhere they go and being greeted in stores by jovial “merry Christmas!”  

Well, let me tell you a little Christmas story: Once upon a time I was leaving the College of Dentistry and said to my dentist “thanks again and merry Christmas!” Right after I said it, I realized that she was a practicing Muslim and started to apologize profusely (you do NOT want to alienate the person who has the power over the drill in your mouth, trust me!). You know what she did? She laughed. Then she told me that she would never feel offended by anything like that because she understood that she was living in a society where Christmas was important to most people and for them it was just a nice thing to say. Plus, she added cheerfully, even though she didn’t celebrate Christmas as such, she was very much looking forward to having a Christmas break J

Now this is an attitude I can work with! The photo below illustrates it nicely:

I personally think that all this hullaballoo about how multiculturally insensitive it is to be wishing people merry Christmas and playing Christmas carols in the mall is a little bit dumb. I used myself in this column as a living example that hearing “happy Thanksgiving” and being offered a slice of pumpkin pie doesn’t kill anyone – even if you happen to be a person who doesn’t relate to Thanksgiving whatsoever. I do admit that it might get irritating every now and then, but I still insist that minorities, together with counselors, who are supposed to be committed to advocating for their rights, have more important  things to worry about than feeling threatened by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m all for increasing multicultural awareness, but I don’t necessarily believe that making Americans feel like shit about celebrating their own holidays in their own country is the way to go :)



frankobarski said...

I have been corrected for saying "happy holidays" as if I were putting down Christmas, Jesus and religions. I got accustomed to using the generic holidays because I am originally from a large port city and I had no idea what everyone's background might be. So, damned if you do and damned if you don't. I try not to guess folks' meaning either way. I try to assume everyone means well. if they want to discuss it in greater detail, let's go have a single malt and chat. ;-)

RoyO said...

In all my life I don't recall ever hearing a "season's greeting" that was of a malicious intent.

And as for Thanksgiving, I think celebrating a time when diverse cultures got together in peace and harmony to share a meal and give thanks is a wonderful thing, something that we could use more of in today's world.

Global Chick said...

Frankobarski: Yes, "damned if you do and damned if you don't" has been on my mind a lot since I started to navigate this multiculturally sensitive world :) That's how I frequently feel!

RoyO: I don't think that anybody would go THAT far as to accuse anyone of malicious intent regarding holiday greetings, BUT like I tried to describe in the column, it's believed in some circles that it does count as a microagression against certain minorities... Which I happen to believe is a little silly... When it comes to Thanksgiving, of course, it's up to you what holidays mean to you. Myself, I'm not opposed to celebrating diverse cultures coming together in peace and harmony, but in the case of Thanksgiving I could never get past the events that followed VERY soon afterwards :(