In early July this year, someone — with the kindest of intentions — wished me a “happy holiday.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but upon reflection I wondered what holiday, other that the Fourth of July, could he have possibly meant?
It is true that July is national blueberry month — perhaps that was it? Then again, according to a website called holidayinsights.com, July is also national hot dog month. Or, Wired magazine indicates that the second week of July is “nude recreation week.” Could that be the referenced “holiday”?
No, I suspect he meant the obvious: By saying “happy holiday,” he really meant “happy Fourth of July.”
Which brings us to December, the “holiday” season. Last week, twice I was wished a “happy holiday.” Clearly, the reference was to Thanksgiving. And in a couple of weeks, I fully expect festive greetings from folks wishing me, yet again, a “happy holiday.”
I understand what motivates all of this obfuscation. We don’t want to offend someone by being exclusive. So we make generic reference to an unnamed “holiday” rather than say what is really on our minds.
In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote: “(T)he great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”
So it is with “holiday” greetings.
I don’t presume to be a maker of manners, nor do I expect to influence popular culture with this column. So let me invite my friends simply to do this: Tell me what’s on your mind this December.
If you want to wish me a merry Christmas, say that. Or, if you celebrate Hannukah, wish me a happy Hannukah — and I will celebrate with you. Spare the oblique reference to the “holiday,” and instead wish me a “joyous Kwanzaa”. I’m a festive guy — so please don’t hesitate to wish me a happy Festivus. Whatever you say, I promise not to be offended.
Just because we don’t celebrate the same holidays doesn’t mean we must smother our greetings in insincere, calculated language.
Come on, let’s live a little!
Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”