My 4-year-old was told not to say, 'Happy holidays.' Here's how I responded.

An innocent trip to the supermarket with my 4-year-old daughter showed me how strange this world has become.

It started with me playing the all-too-familiar role of "Shopping Cart Mutombo" (essentially swatting away all of the junk food she attempted to put inside the cart). Nothing unusual there.


Not in Dikembe Mutombo's house, kid. GIF from Geico.

Later on, we encountered a woman who stopped us to say how cute my daughter's "Frozen" T-shirt was. As we were about to part ways, I whispered to my kiddo to wish the lady happy holidays. Again, nothing odd there, right?

Well, not so much.

The woman smiled at my daughter and said,"Honey, your daddy should teach you to wish people a 'merry Christmas,' not happy holidays, OK?"

My little one quickly responded with a sheepish, "OK," and that was the end of our brief encounter.

What just happened? One second she's complimenting my kid's outfit, and before I knew it, she was telling me how to raise her. Needless to say, I was less than pleased.

Oh, no she didn't. GIF from "Friday."

I'm a Christian who celebrates Christmas, but I'm not buying this "War on Christmas" nonsense because it's a war that doesn't exist. I also fully reject the notion that my daughter should say "merry Christmas" to everyone she comes across.

When we got home, I gave my daughter three reasons why that lady was wrong in terms that even a 4-year-old can understand.

1. It's just silly.

I could start and end my rant with that, but since we're on the topic of silliness, let's push forward with a silly analogy that I shared with my daughter.

Let's say there is a fantastic buffet that offered the best mozzarella sticks in town. When it comes to dipping sauces, she's on Team Marinara all the way and — coincidentally — that was the only sauce this establishment had available.

Mmm ...mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce. A great combo. Photo via iStock.

Customers with diverse tastes start to visit the buffet, so the owners decided to do something about it. Instead of providing a "marinara" section, there is now a "sauce" section of the buffet where the marinara is in a container next to a container of ranch dressing and a container of some other secret dip that nobody is quite sure of.

So, here's the question I posed to my kid: "Would it upset you if all of the sauces were grouped together? Remember, you can still have your marinara sauce, but it will be placed with the other sauces."

Her response was a cautious, "No," assuming this was part of a trick question. I assured her it wasn't.

I know what she wouldn't do. She wouldn't throw a tantrum about how there's a "war on marinara sauce" and that we're becoming "too politically correct" by including other sauces that don't appeal to her.

Saying "happy holidays" isn't dissing Christmas any more than offering a bunch of sauce choices disses marinara.

2. The Christian population in America is dwindling, and we need to be inclusive of other religions.

Again, I'm a Christian, but we need to stop acting as if Christian celebrations and beliefs are all that should matter in America.

A whopping 70% of Americans claim Christianity as their faith, but that percentage dropped by approximately eight percentage points since 2007 according to the Pew Research Center.

Why does that matter? Because the number of non-Christians in America is growing. That means more Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and (gasp) Muslims are walking among us. While certain bombastic presidential candidates may not like some of that change, I personally think it's wonderful.


Another factor is millennials are less likely to be religious than any other group, although many of them identify as spiritual.

As this trend continues, fewer people are identifying with Christianity and more people are choosing other religions — and in some cases, no religion at all. Does it really make sense to wish everyone a "merry Christmas" if that's the case?

That's when I asked my daughter a second question. "If you were at a playground and only a select group of kids could play with the toys while the others were left out, do you think that would be fair?"

Again, my query was met with a simple "no," but I decided to follow up by asking why she felt that way. "Because everyone should have a toy to play with."

Right.

So if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings' Day, you have a right to have it recognized, even if it isn't by name. Happy holidays is a good way to do it.

3. Accept well wishes graciously.

I finally asked my daughter, "What do you say when people say nice things to you?"

You guessed it.

GIF from "The Office."

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There's nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they're far from insults.

Can we please stop acting like it's some sort of attack on humanity? Because it's really not.

Final note to the lady at the supermarket: I'm going to teach my daughter to be inclusive and kind.

I understand where you're coming from. You really like marinara sauce and it's pretty much all you've eaten in your lifetime. Sometimes change can be hard. I get that (took me two years to wean myself off ranch).

But we shouldn't cling to our old habits just because we don't feel like changing. We need to make the most out of our time here and connect with the people we meet. That way, the mozzarella sticks will taste better for everyone.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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