Giving Offense


Giving Offense

Why are we so afraid of giving offense? When we do so, who is harmed? We start a phrase “No offense” but…  And the recipient says, “None taken” virtually every time. We have entire seasons based on giving no offense.

The upcoming holidays are a case in point. We have twisted ourselves into pretzels not to give ‘offense.’ We have removed the word Christmas from the celebration of Christmas. Who are we afraid of offending?  Jews? Muslims? Those who celebrate Kwanzaa? The Buddhists? How about Wiccans?

I see signs throughout the city celebrating Chanukah. Am I supposed to be offended that my Jewish friends puts a Menorah in their window and lights a candle each day of Chanukah?  The color of that season is blue. Am I supposed to take offense at blue lights during the holidays?

Frankly I find the traditions that differ from mine to be wonderful. It’s a learning experience. It means that people can have different beliefs, but still live side by side, be friends, and respect each other. When I wish a Jewish friend Merry Christmas, I’m not attempting to place my beliefs on her, I’m communicating two millennia of tradition to her, just as her “Happy Chanukah” directs three millennia of tradition towards me. No Offense, None Taken.

If we are concerned about spending taxpayer money on decorations, why not invite different groups in a city to place their messages in places of honor. A creche for the Christians, a Menorah for the Jews, and so forth. If they can’t get it together to do so, so be it.

Like it or not, this is primarily the Christmas Season here in the US. If I were in Israel, I might find the celebrations having a slightly different bent. Certainly a few months down the road we will celebrate the Chinese New year. There will be parades with dragons, fireworks, and Gung Hei Fat Choi, which doesn’t, by the way, mean “Happy New Year” but is closer to wishing prosperity.

The Muslims will enter Ramadan in early May, at the crescent moon. They will fast and pray and celebrate a number of different events during the 28 or 29 days. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa look to harvests and feasts and the traditions of the tribes in Africa.

One might say that Christmas is pervasive here in the US, and that’s true. However, were I in Saudi Arabia, I would expect that Ramadan would be on everyone’s lips. Sort of how tradition works.

So it seems to me that if one wants to wish someone “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Chanukah,” or Gung Hei Fat Choi, it is a sign of respect not an offense. If you are offended, maybe this is an excellent time to rethink your approach to life.

Merry Christmas



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

4 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more, John. The insipid “Happy Holidays” is pretty meaningless. Let’s say what we mean, and if someone wishes me Happy Hanukkah, I just say “thank you”!

  2. I often say to family and friends something topical to me and must say it makes them smile “HAPPY PARKING”

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