Thursday, December 5, 1996
Wishing you a politically incorrect day

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

This year, I am going to muster the courage to just come right out and wish people a ''Merry Christmas.'' And if that's not appropriate, I'm going to figure out what is and say that instead.

I'm finished with the politically correct and colorless ''Happy Holidays.''

If you ask me, that's just a cheap way to say, ''Maybe you have an important holiday around now, but I don't know for sure, and I'm not interested in learning.''

It's the December equivalent of ''Dear Occupant,'' and it further diminishes and commercializes a sacred season.

More than Chia pets

Surely, wishing a happy Christian day on an atheist or a Buddhist or a Jew isn't shoving an alien religion down their throats. When I wish somebody a Merry Christmas, I really just mean I wish all good things for them. I don't mean that I think they ought to abandon their customs and go to my church.

And surely, if you know somebody well enough to wish them a Merry Christmas and they'd like for you to know a little more about them, they might say something like, ''Thanks, I hope your Christmas is merry, too. I will be celebrating the first day of Ramadan on Jan. 10.''

Or, simply, ''And I wish you a Happy Kwanzaa.''

Surely we can do this, can't we?

Thanksgiving last week was the starting gun for the holiday season. It's worth remembering that this is more than simply three weeks of shopping and glitter and ads for Chia pets. It's also worth noting that although the Pilgrims and Indians sat down together to share food, they did not dress up in each other's clothes and insist that their way was the only one.

The Jews have the right idea about this sort of thing. Of course, they've had a lot of time to think about it. More than 2,000 years ago, the Jewish followers of Judas Maccabaeus began civilization's first recorded flight for personal liberty and religious freedom.

Today is the first day of the celebration of their victory. Hanukkah begins this evening and continues through sundown Friday, Dec. 13. ''Hanukkah glorifies the right to religious freedom of all peoples,'' says a memo from the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Jews will light the menorah each day, exchange gifts and serve latkes. Now is the time to wish them a Happy Hanukkah. Later on, you can wish your Jewish friends a Merry Christmas, if you want. Michael Rapp, JCRC executive director, says he sees it as ''just an attempt to reach out and be nice.''

But it would be even nicer if we did better than drop religious greetings by rote, replacing ''Have a good one'' with ''Happy Holidays.''

The other big celebration this time of year is not religious at all, according to Denise Davis, a physician who celebrates both Kwanzaa and Christmas. ''Kwanzaa is a celebration of African culture,'' she says. ''The greeting is 'Habaragani?''' That means ''What's the good news?'' in Swahili.

What's the good news?

Every day for seven days, the last week of the calendar year, celebrants light a candle representing unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

''These seven principles are what we instill into our children,'' Dr. Davis says, ''because that's instilling it for our future and for everybody.''

Well put.

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Habaragani. Let's celebrate them all. And just tell me if you'd rather I wished you a happy Nirvana Day or Naw-Ruz. I want to know.

During the next few weeks of mysterious packages and lights and bright colors, let's wish for a day when people who thought they had almost nothing in common can notice that they dream of pretty much the same things.

If somebody asks me in Swahili or English, ''What's the good news?'' I would say, ''This is it, Brother.''

This is the time of year when we can all remind each other that we don't have to be exactly alike to share this planet in peace. That would be, I believe, a most politically correct holiday.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Published Dec. 5, 1996.