Happy holidays!

Last Friday was Good Friday. It was a big day for Christian. It was public holidays in Singapore and Hong Kong, but not in Islamic countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. People worked as usual in those countries.

The holidays reminded me an interesting complaint from my cousin.

My cousin lives in the US. We visited her family during the Christmas’ time and stayed in her house for about a week. One day, we talked about her company, she told me, “I can not say ‘Merry Christmas!’ in my office now, so I am able to say a few more times to you.”

“It’s still the biggest day of a year, and public holidays in America, right? How do you greet with each other in the office?” I wondered.

“Well, we can ONLY say ‘Happy holidays!’” she sounded a bit annoyed.

“Merry Christmas!” or “Happy holidays!” sounds no different to me.

“Maybe she does not like the company.” I thought.

I got it straightened out after I followed my Cousins to their church’s silent night party.

There were some performances and dramas in the party. The kids played very hard on the stage, but they were short of training. At the end, the priest made an impassioned, powerful speech about the birth of Jesus, which, according to his message, changed our life, made strong impacted on the peace of the world, contributed to the development of humankind and so on. I just joined it for funs; I did not pay much attention. But, I got to know one important point. (The priest effort did not waste his time on me.)

The birth of Jesus = Christmas; Merry Christmas! = Happy birthday to Jesus!

So, there is a big difference between saying Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Imagine John’s birthday party. Nobody is allowed to say, “Happy birthday to John!” When making a toast, friends can only say, “Best wishes to you!”

Isn’t the majority Christian in the US? Why do companies prohibit staff from greeting “Merry Christmas!” in the office? Concerning this, I sent an email to another American friend,

PS: While more and more people in China celebrate the Christmas, it is really strange to me that many friends in the US can not say Merry Christmas at work. That is another interesting thing I learn here.

He made a fast and short reply,

P.S. – In the US, Christmas is both a religious and commercial holiday, whereas in Asia it’s pretty much a commercial holiday. Though mostly Christian, the US has people of many religions – and to avoid offending those of Jewish, Muslim, or other faiths that do not celebrate Christmas as a religious celebration, many people say “Happy Holidays” instead – to cover everything.

I see! They want to achieve religious harmony. (Harmony is the big keyword of China’s current media.) Religion is very sensitive in the US too. While not allowing to say “Merry Christmas!” does take care of some other religions’, many people’s feeling, it restricts the freedom of Christian.

Such enforcement does help maintain religious harmony in many circumstances. There are too many examples in Singapore.

For example, students are not allowed to bring articles with strong religious symbol to schools. A few years’ ago, a Malay family in Singapore sued the government for this, because their daughter were not allow to wear scarf in the school. After lost the case, they transferred their daughter to a school in Malaysia.

Also, to avoid segregation, Singapore government strictly controls the proportion of different races in the HDB, the public housing of Singapore. Chinese, Malay, and India must share a certain proportion in every HDB block. For instance, when the number of Chinese resident reaches the limit in a HDB block, no Chinese can buy a house in this block even though there is a house for sale by other race.

Such enforcements sacrifice certain groups’ interests for the benefits of bigger communities.

It works in Singapore. You can see different races say hello to each other occasionally; you can find children of different races mix together on the playground near the HDB blocks.

Strangely, it was in Malaysia that I felt the truly so-called harmonious society in the first time. (The Malaysia tourism slogan “Truly Asia” does make some sense to me.)

Few years ago, we were backpacking in Kuala Lumpur. We went to its Chinatown for some cheap bargains. Like those in many other Chinatown, the sombrous lane was full of people, with shop keepers shouting for business and shoppers bargaining for exotic T-shirts or fake citizen watch.

Most of Chinese in the Chinatown speak Cantonese. Suddently, a loud “X你老母!…” in Cantonese (Kind of Fucking…in English) behind shocked us, while we were searching the way out. We looked back immediately, and saw a local India scolding a Chinese in perfect Cantonese! The Chinese was obviously not the rival. He stepped back, moaning away.

I have seen a harmonious society in this quarrel.

I think in a truly harmonious society, every member appreciates the similarity and difference between one another and everybody shares the happiness of “Merry Christmas” freely. Even when there is a quarrel, every member can quarrel in each other’s language without going into a bloody war.

It seems KL achieves this without using much enforcement.