Holidays draw out religious differences

It was my first job in fast food at Subway. Five other workers worked up front with me on the notorious sandwich line, and together we cranked out orders like a machine. We did all we could to finish their meals as fast as possible, but I still felt guilty for holding up their holiday shopping. I finished up my current customer’s order with no problems, even with a line of angry people stretching past the booth.

“Happy holidays!” I said, releasing a sigh of relief and a big smile.

“Don’t say that. That’s what terrorists say. Merry Christmas!” the customer said cheerily. My former manager agreed with him, and they shared a moment of bonding over their blatant intolerance.

Meanwhile, two women wearing traditional hijab head coverings waited further down in line, silent amid the chaos of the food court.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—except for those who do not share the same traditions as mainstream culture. The embedded impatience of the season tends to bring the worst out in shoppers. Those in the minimum wage workforce are exposed to little moments of people’s covert bias against others who do not look or celebrate like them. Holiday deals lure in customers, and long lines keep them long enough for an unsuspecting worker to see or hear snippets of underlying prejudice of Christmas time.

My family and I also celebrate Christmas and participate in mainstream traditions associated with the holiday. We listen to Christmas music, we put up a freshly cut pine in the corner of the living room and we cover presents in wrapping paper dotted with “Joy to the World” lyrics. I am a typical white girl, dark blonde hair and all. I do not want to speak for those who face these struggles this time of year, but I do wish to comment on the controversy of political correctness during the holidays.

It should not be offensive to say “happy holidays,” but the motivation behind it—to consider other religions or beliefs as well as those who celebrate Christmas—can be perceived as threatening to Christianity. Yes, Christians are still threatened in this country because of their faith. According to FBI data collected in 2013, 105 hate crimes targeted Protestants and Catholics combined. However, 625 crimes were also committed against Jewish people and 135 attacked those of the Islamic faith in the same year. Everyone deserves a chance to exercise their religious freedom, but this does not mean it is okay to disregard other faiths in the process. We still have a long way to go toward acceptance of all people in our melting pot of a country, and this is just one aspect of the problem.

Originally published in 2016 December issue of The Beacon magazine for Olentangy High School

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