By Nathan Butler
Secretary of the San Juan County Republican Party
Ever since I was a child, I have loved language and foreign cultures. Resulting from this passion, I have lived in many different places, my favorite being Thailand. Thai people are the warmest, kindest people I have encountered anywhere, as befits a people who celebrate three New Years: Chinese, Thai and western.
On the Thai New Year, called Songkran, they ritually wash the Bhuddas and then a three-day, all-out national water fight ensues. As a devout Christian, I did not wash the Bhuddas, but I did enjoy the massive water fight. My favorite picture is of me on a street with hundreds of people and a man holding a water hose directed at me. There was a foot of water on the ground. It didn’t occur to me to be offended.
I have never understood why the celebration of Christian holidays seems to cause such offense. We are told to say “Happy Holidays” not “Merry Christmas,” lest we slight someone. When I lived in Cairo I loved the celebratory atmosphere of Ramadan. At the end of the day, tables would be laid out, everyone came out on the street. The poor were fed, there were games and playing. I’m not Muslim, but they welcomed me. So likewise, all who are not Christian are welcomed. Those who have their own holidays can still celebrate them. I once celebrated an Indian holiday at a Hindu temple in Utah and loved it. There was no sense that their culture was marginalized by the well-known religiosity of many Utahns.
The celebration of diversity demands not that we take offense at holidays that are not our own, but that we applaud our differences; nor does it require that we sanitize our own culture. Diversity includes us as well. It is profoundly illiberal to take offense that someone is doing something different from you, which is why I am always mystified by the argument over it, and who starts the argument. And it is ungenerous to reject a cheerful greeting of any type.
I suppose one counter argument is that I was a guest in these countries, so I should not take offense. But there are religious minorities in these nations. Yet Christians in Egypt, who face considerable discrimination and prejudice, didn’t seem to mind Ramadan. Poor Muslims in Thailand eat well at Buddhist temples. And of course, the use of government funds to subsidize Christian holidays through displays (though many of them are celebrated by the secular, much as I enjoyed Songkran) can be problematic. But this isn’t usually the objection that is made, and private donations could, in theory, be used for such holidays.
Sometimes it seems like criticizing is a national sport. If there is something to complain about, let’s do it. Instead, let’s celebrate diversity. Celebrate the many different holidays. If I wished you a Merry Christmas and you wished me a Happy Hanukah, I hoped you smiled and embraced our shared belief in something uplifting.