12/18/2013 04:38 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

Happy Holidays?

Something that's struck a chord with me online recently, has been people posting, "It's not 'Happy Holidays,' it's 'Merry Christmas!'" To me, this indicates that the person posting finds the very idea of being inclusive of all people to be offensive. The fact that any -- let alone many -- feel this way is a hard pill to swallow. In a country with such richly diverse cultures, I thought the relationship between one's faith and/or religion, to how they give and receive seasonal greetings would be interesting to explore.

For many, yeah, it's Christianity and Christmas, all day every day. By the way, no one is trying to take away the intensity with which these individuals feel or express their religious conviction. For many others, faith and religion just play a very different role. So, for people to be so focused on Christmas makes many feel left out in the cold. Besides, we're not all Christians. I consider myself to be modestly religious. I love researching my Jewish heritage, and celebrating Jewish holidays. I also try to incorporate some Christian traditions too, as that's what my fiancé was raised with.

Many Americans don't feel pulled toward any religion at all though. In 2012, a study by Pew Research stated that 1/5 of the American population had no religious affiliation. Truth be told -- religiously and spiritually speaking -- many of my closest friends and family members believe in nothing. Well, that's not true. They believe in people, in living good lives, being charitable, and doing the "right thing."

Think the holiday should be all about God? Not everyone looks at God the same way. I consider myself to be a deeply spiritual person. My concept of God is somewhat atypical though. I say the word "God," to relate easily to others, and -- like the traditional view -- I believe in a benevolent, omnipotence which connects us all. However, unlike those who think this consciousness resides in one entity (or three or more, for those who believe in the Holy Trinity or something like it) I believe this consciousness to be in the form of energy which flows through all people, places, and things.

Does this sound a little odd to you? Well, thankfully, I'm not alone. I posed an anonymous survey to my social network on the topics of faith, religion, and seasonal greetings. Eighty eight lovely folks of many ages, backgrounds, and locations responded.

  • The first question asked was "Do you believe in God?" To my surprise, only 40 percent said they believe in a traditional form of God, 21 percent said they believe in a non-traditional form, and 39 percent said they believe in nothing or that they're not sure.

Alas, I'm a big believer in personal freedom. If you want to solely be wished a "Merry Christmas" and for this to be the exclusive phrase you say to your friends and family, mazel tov! Knock yourself out! But there's very little in this world we can be certain of. If you're reading this, there is a strong possibility there are more atheists and agnostics in your family or social network than you're aware of.

  • Another question asked in the survey was, "Do you still practice the religion you were raised with?" Only 33 percent of respondents said yes. Fifty eight percent said no or maybe, and 9 percent said they're only culturally observant.

Much changes throughout time, but many trends tend to remain, such as fear of religious persecution. Unless we've had conversations to the contrary, not only do we not truly know what religious/cultural traditions the acquaintances in our lives follow, it's also possible that members in our own families and personal lives are afraid to reveal this part of themselves publicly.

I imagine some of you by now might be saying, "Holy guacamole! Why all the fuss about greetings?" Well, you might be right, but in case you haven't noticed, people are meaning --making machines! I doubt this topic is keeping anyone up at night; but here are a few of the thoughts of survey respondents who relayed feeling left out.

  • "The Christmas season is the one time of year that I feel I do not belong in the USA although it is my native country."
  • "People of all faiths exist and the season should if anything be about coming together and not a beacon of Christianity."
  • "I think that when people use, 'Merry Christmas,' they are assuming everyone practices and celebrates the same things. While they may mean well, it can be hurtful and reinforce a sense of superiority of those who practice the dominant religion."

Please do not mistake me. As a Social Worker, I work very closely with many people and houses of faith. I am NOT anti-religious nor anti-Christian. In fact, I'm quite the opposite. It can be a cruel, harsh world out there, and anything that helps get people through -- as religion does for so many -- I am a fan of. Some of the kindest, most generous, and tender-hearted people I know are deeply religious. A few of them weighed in on the survey, and here are some of their thoughts.

  • "I usually wish people "a great holiday." It covers all the religious holidays and New Year's."
  • "I am a born again devout Christian, and I love my faith! But I don't force it on anyone. I have a graceful heart, and recognize the good intentions and love of all!"
  • "Getting a greeting that doesn't match my traditions gives me joy knowing that so many people have such varied traditions. Then again perhaps this is all easy for me since I'm coming from the Christian side of the fence and I've not faced feeling excluded during the holidays."
And who can forget my nihilists? I joke using that descriptor, but here are some thoughts from a few survey respondents whose views might be considered a little atypical or extreme.
  • "My parents were raised very religious and raised me free from any religion. They wanted us to make our own decision. I decided to believe in science and being kind to all."
  • "All these holidays we celebrate are bullshit if you really think about it. We make holidays from original traditions that have nothing to do with how we celebrate. These holidays plague our minds and eat our pockets."
  • "The premise is you have to follow this religion to be a complete person; therefore, non-believers are incomplete. That is provably incorrect, not to mention rather uncivilized."

To the folks whose words and attitudes I've taken issue with here... I get it. I can absolutely see how if a big part of a person's identity is rooted in his or her religion, stretching the boundaries of that religion's holidays could be scary. However, think of how much there is to gain! In a simple turn of phrase, you go from being perceived as a little elitist and isolating, to being warm and inviting... Isn't it worth it? To close, I think I'll leave you with the words of one last survey respondent.

  • "I feel like the holidays should be about loving one another and spreading good faith, peace, and happiness. The small things like how you celebrate shouldn't matter. We should recognize the love that people are feeling and be thankful about it, not snarky if people greet you in a way that isn't the exact way you celebrate. They meant well, that's all that matters."

Thanks for keeping an open mind, and I wish you the very happiest of holidays, whatever those may be.