We were going to visit family in India and were out buying gifts. Armed with a long list with must-have and nice-to-have for every member of our large extended families, we spent a long day at a department store.
With two carts piled high, we took stock and agreed we were done.
“For today!” my wife added with a grin as we made our way to the cashier and stood in line.
“I’m sure we’ll be back tomorrow if I keep getting up in the middle of the night with something I’ve forgotten to get for someone!”
The store was festooned with Christmas decorations and carols played cheerfully in the background.
This was our first Christmas in Canada and we were enchanted by being in a place where real snow turned everything into something magical we had hitherto only seen in Christmas cards.
It was a busy time at the store with everyone shopping for Christmas.
It took a while, but our turn finally came.
As we paid and were heading out, the young cashier in a Santa hat said, “Happy holidays!”
“Thank you!” I responded, surprised.
My wife was also puzzled. “How did she know we were going on a holiday?”
Must have seen all the stuff in our shopping carts and guessed, we reasoned.
Back in India, we used to wish each other happy holidays at the start of each vacation. Cries of Happy Holidays! would ring out in the corridors on the last day of school.
“Sweet of her, na?” said my wife. “I love Canada! Everyone is so nice.”
Heading out the door, one of the packages beeped. The greeter lady who stands at the entrance came up, checked the shopping cart, scanned a toy again and said we were good to go.
“Happy holidays!” she called out after us.
My wife and I looked at each other, pleased at this confirmation of our faith on the friendliness of Canadians.
We decided to pick up a pizza for dinner and there it happened again.
“Happy holidays!” said the person behind the counter who handed us the box of pizza.
This was now getting weird. All our shopping was in the car. The man had no way of knowing we were going on a holiday. What on earth was going on?
The next day, our friend and neighbour Ravi came over with his family for tea.
“How’s the shopping going?” he asked. “All done? We usually shop until the last possible minute and even then Sudha says she should have picked up this for that person!”
This reminded me of everyone wishing us happy holidays and I asked him if he could help explain the mystery.
Ravi looked confused for a few seconds and then, as he understood, he gave a shout of laughter.
“This is their way of wishing you Merry Christmas! They don’t know if you are Christian or not and don’t want to offend you, and hence the nondenominational greeting, Happy Holidays. This is very typical Canadian behaviour.”
Though my wife and I are not Christian and though we appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the gesture, it seemed to us that when we wish others Happy Diwali and Eid Mubarak regardless of whether we celebrate those festivals or not, we should also wish everyone Merry Christmas.
“Like we did at school,” my wife said.
So now we make it a point to wish neighours and salespeople at stores Merry Christmas before they can say Happy Holidays!
– Surajit Dutta
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