In Malaysia, we celebrate four major holidays (among other smaller festivals and days of note): Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which is the Muslim holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadhan; Deepavali, the Festival of Lights celebrated by Hindus; Chinese New Year, aka the Lunar New Year and Christmas.
While each festival has its religious and ethnic origins, Malaysians celebrate every holiday together. Everyone goes on holiday. Most of us make the exodus back to our hometowns from the city of Kuala Lumpur amid gentle reminders of safe driving on TV and in the papers (the festivities are when road accident numbers are the highest because of the long road trips). And we greet each other with the appropriate greeting for the holiday: Selamat Hari Raya, which literally means "Safe Celebration Day", "Happy Deepavali"; Gung Hei Fatt Choy, which is Cantonese for "Wish You Wealth and Prosperity" (I know, it’s all about the money with us) and Merry Christmas.
Oddly enough (Malaysia being a Muslim country), Christmas is probably the only holiday out of the four where all Malaysians, whatever our racial backgrounds and religious beliefs, celebrate culturally (and commercially) together. This is to say that whether or not we’re Christians, Malaysians buy and decorate Christmas trees, give presents, and have Christmas dinners or lunches. It does not matter if one is Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, I’ve received presents from people of all faiths during Christmas, without ever giving the custom another thought. After all, Christmas isn’t just about Christ anymore. It’s about pretty fake fir trees, Santa, presents, turkey and to the rest of us, simply a holiday for giving and sharing. And regardless of ethnicity or faith, we will greet each other "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"
Without getting our panties all in a bunch.
In recent years, there has been some furor over the words used in the greetings used when the dates of these holidays coincided. When Hari Raya and Chinese New Year became a whole week of festivities, the clever advertising industry came up with "Gong Xi Raya". When Deepavali and Hari Raya became days apart, it became "Happy Deepa Raya". Quite a few people were riled up. These uptight Purists of Holidays and Holiday Greetings opined that these coined greetings were ‘blasphemous’ and ‘disrespectful’.
My honest opinion? There are more important things in the world to worry about than the words one uses in holiday greetings. Do these people have so much time in their hands to give such matters so much thought? Such is the bane of people who, as the Chinese like to say, "sik pau mou yeh chou" (translation: the idleness that comes after one’s stomach is full). Truly, I have never met a purist who is struggling to feed his kids or lives on the streets.
Here’s the thing: My family is agnostic. And yet, we buy a Christmas tree, wrap presents and will be throwing a Christmas Day lunch for our friends and family members. On Christmas eve, we will read our girls The Night Before Christmas and Raeven, especially, will be waiting for Santa, to whom she’s written a letter and posted it (they have a little red mailbox at the post office marked "Letters to Santa") to bring her all her presents. As non-believers, we still play along and help perpetuate that feel-good, warm and fuzzy Christmas myth that is more popularly known as the Christmas spirit. It makes us feel good, our children shining examples of Good Little Girls (for all of two days) and most of all, we do it because it’s FUN.
And if someone wishes me Merry Christmas or a Blessed New Year even though I know that Santa isn’t real or that God has nothing to do with the 365th day of 2007 turning into the 1st day of 2008, will I demand an apology, insisting that people be more careful when they’re trying to be nice and extend their good wishes? When did we become so full of ourselves that we have lost room in our hearts to accept well wishes, just to be courteous? When did we become so conceited in our need to be identified correctly that we cannot make ourselves accept kindness, in whatever package it come ins?
When did wanting to be wished (and making sure to wish people) in a politically correct manner become so crucial that we would risk forgetting what this holiday stands for? What EACH holiday represents?
Giving and receiving.
Good over evil.
With that in mind, I wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas – whoever, and whatever, you are.