Once again facebook is brimming with posts mocking the “War on Christmas”. This most recent target is Starbucks who this year has opted for plain red paper cups with their logo in green. Some internet preacher (Joshua Feuerstein) has decided that not having reindeer, snowmen, evergreen trees, or ornaments means they are attacking Christmas. Because snowmen and penguins scream Christmas, right? Why aren’t people who live south of the snow-line getting bent out of shape because of all this “White Christmas” focus? Speaking as someone with 63 years of New England Christmas experience, we get really excited when we have snow on Christmas because it’s NOT guaranteed to happen. The big snow comes in January and February. Yes, winter is a lot more fun when you can ski or skate, but if we didn’t always have snow in Maine, I’m sure Virginia and California much less Florida through New Mexico don’t celebrate Christmas with sledding and snowball flights.
It’s not about Starbucks choosing a simple red cup this year, it’s about the feeling of insecurity we have when we are surrounded by people warning us to be careful about greeting co-workers by saying “Merry Christmas”, or holiday decorations being left in storage in case someone says they’re offensive. Far more people are worried about whether they are giving offense than are taking offense.
I am fully aware that when a culture has a default setting, some individuals will take that as an excuse to abuse those who don’t follow that setting. There have been times when kids, feeling as if they have seen support of their parents, school administration and others, have been physically violent to people they saw as different: different religion, different race, different culture… Not all adults, not even all political leaders teach kids to respect diversity. They aren’t all comfortable with it themselves.
Humans evolved in mostly homogeneous tribal cultures. Safety consisted of making sure everyone was at least close enough to the norm that they couldn’t pose a threat. We have intellectually chosen to create a diverse culture, but we reassure ourselves by pretending that we really are homogeneous- with sprinkles of difference for “interest”. We’re a “Christian” nation, and the people of other religion are few enough to not count (white and “colored”, well off and poor, able and handicapped, fill in your own difference), but when as the parenthetical examples indicate, the cumulative impact of all the many acceptable differences are noticed, our old tribal mindset kicks in.
We remember how secure we felt as kids when our parents explained things to us simply, and took care of us. As adults we see there’s a lot more to take into account. Our minds tell us that it’s because of the changes we’ve seen that things have gotten harder. When we were kids, “everyone was Christian, white, straight, middle-class” so if we can get back to that, maybe everything will be less scary and easier again. Except that it wasn’t. We were kids, we didn’t know that in other communities, everyone was Jewish, or black, or rich or poor, or whatever, and we just didn’t know about them yet.
Yes, it’s hard to deal with change, but we can handle it. The thing to remember is that it is more helpful to make it easier on the people who are finding the change hard than to try to force them to accept it. This stridency comes from “feeling” attacked. Rather than telling them to stop being such whiners, reassure them that they aren’t. Acknowledge their discomfort- soothe it as much as you can, without agreeing to let them do whatever they want. They probably DON’T want to force everyone to be like them, they just want the feeling of security they had when they were kids. We can’t MAKE the whole world one color or one religion even if we wanted to. We can reassure them that it’s OK for them to celebrate Christmas with as many greetings, and snow themed decorations as they like. But just because they like a sugar free mocha latte in their cups, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to have that flavor. Next year, maybe Starbucks cups will have piñiatas, or Yul Nisse or maybe cactus! The important thing is the love we share.