I’ll always remember a conversation I overheard between my Irish-Catholic manager and the owner of the Italian eatery where I worked during high school. The manager was putting together the restaurant’s December shift schedule, making an effort to ensure that Christian employees could enjoy Christmas by having Jewish employees cover for them. “But what about Chanukah?” asked the owner, showing concern for his Jewish staff. “Chanukah really isn’t an important religious holiday,” the manager accurately replied. “Are you kiddin’?” exclaimed the owner. “It’s the most important one!”
Each year I ask my students about the origin of Kwanzaa. How long has the holiday been around? What does it celebrate? It’s rare that anybody knows that it’s a week-long (December 26-January 1) celebration of African American culture, created in 1966 by college professor Dr. Maulana Karenga.
Ask “When was Jesus born?” and a likely reply is “December 25th.” Some may even add, “in the year 0.” According to bibleinfo.com, religious texts and teachings suggest Jesus was probably born in September in what we know as 2 B.C.E. “Many Christmas celebrants, however, seem unconcerned about textual proof: a 2014 Pew Survey found that 65% of American adults believe anyway that the Christmas story is factually true,” noted Time magazine.
It’s amazing how uninformed we can be and how facts are pushed aside by what we believe or choose to believe. Replacing truth with misinformation or even blind faith often leads to problems and calamity. For public relations practitioners this is a constant challenge, because we depend on facts and truth to represent our clients and we need to communicate with our audiences through honest, factual, compelling information.
However, we can’t lose sight that this season is all about faith and “believing in things when common sense tells you not to,” according to the wonderful movie, Miracle on 34th Street. So here’s a suggestion: As the new year approaches, we should vow to respect people’s need for faith while doubling our efforts to encourage belief in facts and truth. As Aldous Huxley famously wrote, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
My very best wishes for a safe and happy Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas! –J.M.