Happy holidays!

It's once again that time of year, when some major religious holidays and a secular holiday or two all happen around the same time, so we can bundle them together and wish each other "happy holidays!" to include everyone.

We could be more specific; for example, we could say "l'shana tovah!" to wish our Jewish friends a happy Rosh Hashanah, the civil new year and the start of the High Holy Days; and we could say "Eid saeed!" to wish our Muslim friends a happy Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. We can say "Happy equinox!" to our Wiccan friends (we could even call it Ostara or Mabon, depending on which hemisphere they're in and thus which equinox it is), and "auspicious Navratri" to our Hindu friends; I know that these aren't really major holidays for those religions, but since they're the right time of year this year let's toss them in anyway. And, of course, we can say "Arrr, mateys!" to wish our secular and/or Spaghetti-Monster friends a happy Talk Like a Pirate Day. And "Happy Labor Day" (or Labour Day) to non-religious Americans and Canadians; that was a couple weeks ago, but I think we can all agree that it's all part of the holiday season.

And certainly if the holidays we celebrate are at this time of year, then this must be when everyone's major holidays are, yes? It's a happy coincidence that there are secular holidays now as well (at least this year), so we can rest assured that our non-religious friends are also included in the phrase "happy holidays."

Still, I suppose we also ought to remember, when some other traditions' major religious holidays roll around (for example, I think there's one coming up in a couple months this year, but it's hard to remember exactly how the solar calendar works), to greet people of those faiths with the appropriate greetings as well.

I hope it's clear that this post is meant as a gently teasing reminder rather than an attack. The spirit in which many Christian Americans say "happy holidays" in late December is certainly appreciated and well-intended; and for plenty of people, I gather it really is a non-religious greeting referring to the fact that most Americans get some time off work in late December. But every so often, I feel that it's worth reminding Christian and secular Americans that most of the really big non-Christian religious holidays aren't usually in late December.

Also, I honestly did want to wish everyone shana tova and Eid saeed.

For more about when various major religious holidays are, see the Interfaith Calendar.

Added later: It belatedly occurs to me that people unfamiliar with my history with this topic may conclude that I have no idea what I'm talking about. Sorry about that. Here's some background:

Back in 2001, I posted a bit of a rant about a throwaway phrase in a Harlan Ellison story that referred to late December as "holidaytime," when Chanukah, Ramadan, and Christmas all take place (and the story suggested that this had been true for sixty-some years). I wrote:

[...] the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, and [...] the day Ramadan starts shifts backward in the Gregorian calendar by about 10-12 days each year, taking roughly 36 years to precess through the entire Gregorian calendar. (Note, btw, that Ramadan is not a single day; it's an entire month, something else that some stories (though not necessarily this one) seem to be unclear about.) This mistake is probably due to the fact that Ramadan has started during January, then December, and now November since '94 or so; if you think of "holidaytime" as stretching from early December through the end of January, then sure, Ramadan overlaps with that period in about a quarter of all years.

We had some further discussion of related topics in Vardibidian's blog in 2004, when he posted about (among other things) the "happy holidays" thing.

And we had a little further discussion in 2006, when I noted that Ramadan was beginning but neglected to mention that Rosh Hashanah was also happening.

So, to clarify: in today's entry, I didn't mean to suggest that we should always refer to mid-September as the "holidays"; I was satirically riffing off the fact that this year, these two major non-Christian religious holidays happen, for once, to take place around the same time of the Gregorian calendar as each other. Rosh Hashanah always starts somewhere between Gregorian dates September 5 and October 5 (inclusive), according to Wikipedia; Ramadan (and thus Eid, at the end of Ramadan) shifts through the Gregorian calendar each year.

But I agree that I was not at all clear about what I was going on about, for people unfamiliar with the backstory; apologies.

2 Responses to “Happy holidays!”

  1. irilyth

    Eid actually wanders around a fair bit, following Ramadan, which isn’t always in September, or the same time every year at all. (Which you may know, but I didn’t until embarrassingly recently.)

    • Jed Hartman

      Yeah, that was part of my point: a lot of non-Muslim Americans think that Ramadan is in December, and thus one of the winter holidays, not realizing that it precesses through the solar year over time.


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