With the diverse population on Long Island, it is always possible to offend without really trying. When holiday salutations are flying, it is easy to have a "Happy" slip in when it should be "Merry." This can be especially sticky at work. Our clergy discuss how to maneuver the holidays at the office.
Imam Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, Masjid Darul Quran, Bay Shore:
At this time of year, say "Happy Holidays," as a way to appreciate the different associations that people have. It is difficult to guess just by looking what the other person's affiliation is, what the proper salutation is. It is absolutely appropriate to share in their happiness of the season. It is good that words of good wishes are shared.
There is nothing wrong with taking part in an office tradition such as "Secret Santa." Of course, if there is someone who doesn't want to participate, respect their wishes. And, the person who doesn't want to participate must respect the holidays of others. Perhaps you don't want to go to a party where liquor is being served. Your co-workers should respect your faith in this. And you should be respectful of their celebration. You can decline to participate without disparaging the party.
The most important thing is that this is a joyous time, and sharing kind words and participating in the happiness of others is a good thing.
The Rev. Mark Lukens, Bethany Congregational Church, UCC, East Rockaway
I think the same holds whether you're in the office or not. If you know the tradition of the person, then it is nice to greet them in their tradition, but it is OK to say "Happy Holidays."
I think that in general, too much is made of what to say and to whom it is said. We live in one of the most diverse areas of a diverse nation, so it is simply insensitive to assume that one's neighbor -- or office mate -- practices the same faith. The controversy that has been whipped up over this issue is really about who controls the culture and its symbols, which has nothing to do with the teachings of any faith and is frankly a repugnant concern to Americans who believe that this land is for all of us and not just Christians or any other group.
At the same time, it seems silly to get upset because a well-meaning person wished you a "Happy Hanukkah" when you are a Christian or a "Merry Christmas" if you are a Hindu, if indeed that was done out of ignorance. The key thing to remember is that they are wishing you well and to take the statement in that spirit.
Of course, it also is fine to use that as an opportunity to gently correct and even educate someone about your particular tradition. For myself, as a committed Christian of an evangelical faith, I understand Christmas as one of our most important religious celebrations -- too important to be diminished by concerns over what the greeter at the store says. I wish people "Happy Holidays" if I don't know their faith, because this is also a cultural holiday season. I wish my Jewish friends "Happy Hanukkah" and my friends who celebrate Kwanzaa, a "Happy Kwanzaa." The key phrase is "Have a happy . . ." Brotherhood and sisterhood are, after all, what these things are really all about.
Rabbi Schmuel Greenhaus, West Hills Torah Center, Huntington:
What I've found is that there are certain truths that show up in every religion and every tribal group. These are things that humanity embraces.
For example, look at a holiday such as Hanukkah. It is the victory of light over darkness, the triumph of good over evil. Kwanzaa is a similar concept. It is the nobility of the human soul, qualities that we all aspire to. This is also true of Christmas, a holiday about human love, universal love, forgiveness and acceptance. We're all sort of on the same page at this time of year.
So, if someone greets you with well-wishes, accept them and return the greeting. If someone says "Merry Christmas," I respond with "Merry Christmas." If they say "Happy Hanukkah," I say "Happy Hanukkah." And, I think it is absolutely OK to put up holiday decorations at work, because the holidays encompass universal values. Of course, some of the decorations are a distraction from the real meaning of the holiday. So I'd try to find decorations that speak to the true meaning of the holiday as well. If your co-worker is decorating, just try to find what is common about your faith and theirs, the God-given truths about each holiday. After all, it is good to be good.