Christmas Card Etiquette In A Multi-Cultural Society

Recently, I was writing Christmas cards to my colleagues and encountered this dilemma: is it acceptable to send Christmas cards to people who you know are of a non-Christian religion?

We give Christmas cards out left, right and centre to our friends, colleagues, paper boys without a second thought about what their religion might be, or whether they might have no religion at all.

This is accepted as the norm, and no-one takes issue with it on the basis that “everyone loves Christmas”.

But what if you don’t celebrate this particular Feast, for whatever reason?

I, for one, would not be offended to receive a card from a Jewish person, say, for Hanukah. I would understand that they were celebrating their festival in the traditional manner, and that they would expect to share the celebration with those around them. But this doesn’t happen, and yet it is assumed that we all celebrate Christmas and therefore it is expected that we dish cards out, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on our preferences.

Does this acceptance work the other way? Are members of other religions simply resigned to being forced to share in the celebration of a Christian Feast, despite the discomfort it might cause them?

In particular, if we know that someone is of another religion can we, in all good faith (pun intended), force our beliefs on them in this way, year in, year out?

Some might put the point forward that “they’re used to it”, but if anything I find this more offensive than someone innocently handing over a small piece of card with a picture on the front. It implies a lack of respect, to my mind, and just because we might be used to something in our life (specifically, for the purposes of this debate, something that happens to us as a result of the actions of others) it definitely doesn’t mean that we are happy about it.

Of course, where a lot of this falls down is in the fact that a lot (dare I suggest that it’s actually the majority?) of people who do celebrate Christmas are of no religion. Is a Christmas card (or, indeed, Christmas itself, in the popular sense) therefore a religious thing at all, or simply a time of year where we eat mince pies and exchange copious amounts (hopefully!) of presents just because it’s traditional and enjoyable (which is a good enough reason in itself, I agree). If this is the case then perhaps no-one can be offended by such a sharing, caring gesture as being given a small card to mark the occasion.

Would it make a difference if the sender was known to the recipient as being a Christian, and that therefore the card did signify religious connotations?

In the end, rightly or wrongly, I included my “other religion” colleagues in my Christmas card handout. I very much hope they are not upset by this. For all I know they celebrate Christmas as much as I do.

What really matters is whether these assumptions about each other are acceptable, and it raises a whole host of issues for a multi-cultural society in general, I feel, not just at this time of year.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Have you been in a similar situation, and how did you handle it? Are you someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas but who has to go through the annual motions of receiving cards and having tinsel draped about you?

Should we, perhaps, all join in the celebrations of all major religious festivals whether or not they are from our own religion, or celebrate none at all?

Or is it just political correctness gone (or going) mad?

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3 thoughts on “Christmas Card Etiquette In A Multi-Cultural Society

  1. I celebrate Christmas. But I have struggled with it over the years. And oddly, I have thought some of the same things that you wrote here. In fact, just some this morning! I don’t know the answer.

    Another irk for me is why we celebrate Christmas when we do. I was just reading about something here about that particular irk of mine. It’s an irk because some people get up on their soapbox and say this is the only right was to celebrate the birth of Christ. No it’s not. From what I understand of history Christ was probably born in the Spring anyway. Okay, I could go on and on…more rambling really than actual sense. 🙂

    • I agree that there are also theological issues about the accepted date for the celebration. I think the briefest way to sum that bit up is that someone at some point had to fix it in the mutual calendar, to keep things simple. Whether this was the right thing to do is, at this historical distance, something for us simply to ponder. Short of an email from God himeself telling us we’re wrong, nothing’s going to change the current date. 🙂

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