COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE HAWKINS

'Tis the season for vague holiday greetings

The 2012-2013 holiday season is nearly over. I refer to it that way because it is becoming more and more difficult to identify that period of time in anything but a generic way.

The Chinese New Year is on Feb. 10 and signals the beginning of the Year of the Snake.

Kwanzaa is celebrated in December. As is the case with most special days or periods, it is a created holiday, established in the mid-1960s. Thatís OK by me. People can celebrate whatever they think is important.

Hanukkah is also observed toward the end of each year, with dates fluctuating based on Jewish tradition and history dating to 167 BC. I donít pretend to understand what triggers the start of Hanukkah, but I am happy to wish anyone who enjoys this religious observance Happy Hanukkah with the hope it is appropriate.

Other than "hello" to people I donít know, greetings at this time of year create a befuddlement for me. Iíve always thought of late December as the Christmas season. Few, if any, people believe Christ was born on Dec. 25, and while devout Christians celebrate his birth on that day, like me, many also enjoy Christmas because it is a fun day to spend with family and friends and sometimes includes a couple of nice surprises on Christmas morning.

These days, though, it is more important to be socially correct than pleasant ó the more nondescript the salutation the safer.

In Europe, several nations have created the crime of hate speech. Saying the wrong thing can be punished. A recent story about that involved a conversation between two people of different faiths. They were, according to one of the participants, engaged in a friendly discussion about their respective beliefs. A few days later, one accused the other of hate speech. The accused, the operator of an inn, was acquitted but reportedly lost his business because of the notoriety. All of this because the guest with whom he had this discussion didnít like what he heard. The hate was in the ear of the beholder.

Almost all speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, though that isnít absolute. People who defame, incite to riot or treason, or who make similar kinds of statements are subject to prosecution. But it isnít a crime in the United States to insult someone or someoneís religion. At least not today.

We may be close. There are penalties for statements that offend one or another of the genders, for example, and a charge can stem not from the intent of the maker of the statement but on the feelings of the person or persons who were offended.

We have hate crimes wherein we can punish someone for what we believe they were thinking when they committed a criminal act. Iím still unsure how we can know what a criminal was thinking. How is a hate-based murder worse than any other murder? Still, we have nothing more than that on the books yet, which would allow us to punish someone for how we feel about what we heard that person say. Happily, I am at minimal risk of going to jail if I offer a holiday greeting that doesnít sit well.

It is the possibility of offending that is the problem. I would prefer not to intentionally offend anyoneís sensibilities, but I am just as loath to avoid wishing people a Merry Christmas. It is my way of expressing my own holiday greeting. Frankly, I am offended over political correctness that would cause me to offer a generic statement. I prefer a more personal wish and plan to stick with my traditions, though I will tread carefully with Happy New Year. Iím not fond of snakes.

Christmas trees are just that, no matter where they are placed. Decorations that use various colored lights strung from poles and other trees are, to me, Christmas decorations. Displays that are specific to another holiday are displays that mean something else to others.

This season just ending may be just the holidays for some. For me it remains the Christmas season. What others want to call it is their business. I will leave them to their ways and ask that they do the same for me.



Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He can be reached at george.hawkins@sddt.com.

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