Today, September 6, is a holiday, which most of you reading already know. The holiday most of you associate with today — and for which many of you have a day off work — is Labor Day. And while I am grateful for the contributions of American workers both past and present, many of whom do not get the credit or pay they deserve, it is not Labor Day that I am primarily celebrating today. On September 6, my family and I celebrate Cherokee National Holiday.
Cherokee National Holiday commemorates the signing of the Cherokee Nation’s Constitution on this day in 1839. After the forced removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands, the tribe’s government was formally re-established in their new home through this signing. The Cherokee Nation organizes many events to celebrate each year, and Cherokees who cannot travel to Oklahoma to attend events in person (although this year most events are virtual) may have their own family traditions to mark the holiday. This is the case for me and my family.
In our home, Cherokee National Holiday is about making and sharing things with friends and neighbors. We have much to celebrate and be thankful for, so why not share those feelings with those around us? Both last year and this year we baked and decorated cookies to look like the Cherokee flag (or, at least, some approximation of the flag), which we then took around to our neighbors. This year, now that my son is in preschool, we also made a little packet of coloring pages for each of his classmates, featuring characters from a new Cherokee language animated series, Inage’i. And as we handed out each plate of cookies and each coloring packet, we said, loudly and joyfully, “Happy Cherokee National Holiday!”
Wait, you may be thinking. Are all your neighbors and your sons’ classmates also Cherokee?
No. No they are not. And we still said, loudly and joyfully, “Happy Cherokee National Holiday!”
And it’s worth noting that not a single person seemed to mind that we were conveying well-wishes for a holiday they didn’t share with us. They seemed to recognize and appreciate our intentions, something far too many people seem to ignore these days. We knew it was a holiday they don’t celebrate, but it’s a holiday we were celebrating, and we wanted to share our joy and our celebration with them.
It got me thinking about the drama that erupts every December when the inevitable “Happy Holidays” / “Merry Christmas” debate comes out of hibernation. Jimmy says, “Merry Christmas,” and that is offensive to Johnny because Johnny doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so Johnny wants Jimmy to say, “Happy Holidays,” but that’s offensive to Jenny because Jenny wants her specific Christian holiday acknowledged so she wants everyone to say, “Merry Christmas.” And yes, there are some who want other specific holidays acknowledged, like Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or etc., but let’s be honest: it’s the Christians who complain the loudest. (I know, because I’m a Christian, so I’m around them a lot.)
But seriously, the people who are getting offended about this issue, they’re just looking for something to get offended about. There is PLENTY of actual harm being done in society today, including by the language people choose to use — racial slurs are still being used by elected officials, after all — but genuine wishes that you would have a good holiday? To be bothered by that because it happens to be one you don’t personally celebrate? I’m not buying it. Too many non-Cherokees are perfectly happy to be wished a happy Cherokee National Holiday, so if you’re bugged about “Merry Christmas,” you’ve got some other agenda going on. Next time it comes up, try smiling and saying, “Thanks, you too” — you might feel a whole lot better.
Besides, we have more common ground than you might realize, because whether you’re a “Merry Christmas” person or a “Happy Holidays” person, I think we can all agree that Americans who say, “Happy Christmas” are just objectively wrong.
Happy Cherokee National Holiday, everyone!