A Friendly Note From Your Friendly Jewish Friend About Christmas
I don’t want you to say happy holidays to me, instead of Merry Christmas. What I’d like you to consider, instead — for those of you who are interested in considering such things — is not saying Merry Christmas to strangers, generally.
The issue the crazies want me to have with Christmas is that it is offensive to see, hear, or think about Christmas. They believe that, in not wanting to be personally Merry Christmas’d, I have been warring against the most visible cultural phenomenon in the history of the world which, if I am, all I can say is I am literally the worst general who ever lived. But, to me, all that’s really true is that some people don’t celebrate Christmas, and there’s no need to ASSUME they do. It doesn’t hurt much to hear the words, obviously, but the assumption that everyone you meet is celebrating it equates to other assumptions about American identity that can be at least a little bothersome (frightening?) if you don’t have that identity.
Honestly? I think it’s fair to say that all people who don’t need to hear Merry Christmas really want is not to have to celebrate Christmas themselves. This is no longer me, since I have married into a lovely family that celebrates the holiday and look forward to spending the holiday with my wife’s kin. Before that, however, I assure you I still wanted you to have your great holiday and wear ugly sweaters and listen to the same five songs all month and watch movies where people find love as much as anyone can want that for another person. I just didn’t want to do it myself, or feel obligated to do it myself. I wouldn’t have minded if it all didn’t start the week after Thanksgiving, or even Halloween, but you do you.
And this is the issue with Happy Holidays. Again, the crazies believe that the phrase is a way to steal delicious Christmas right out of their mouths. The actual problem with it, however, is it’s usually not my holiday either. This year, Chanukah and Christmas coincide, but they often don’t. in 2018, for example, it will be December 2–10. Sometimes, it’s even in late November. One time, it got crazy and happened over Spring Break, in Cabo. And, of course, many other religions don’t have holidays this time of year either. (Sidenote: you can spell Chanukah literally any way you want. Hebrew has a different alphabet. Spell it Jar Jar Binks, really do it up).*
So, this has produced a confluence of unfortunate weather fronts in which good people are trying to be inclusive about something it’s okay to be exclusive about — your holiday — and the crazies detest even that, as a sign of weakness against the implacable armies of anti-Christmas which have sometimes even made people consider that other people live in this country too, which is…just awful.
To put this as simply as possible: thank you so much for wanting to include me. But, what I worry about much more than I worry about feeling left out is that there will come a day when my inclusion in this country will be premised on my ability to “pass” as Christian. I don’t mean, of course, actually seeming to be Christian, but that my right to worship as I wish will be based on how much stress the word “Christian” can get in the phrase Judeo-Christian. Many generations of Jews had to fit in as best they could to (hope to) get by, but I’m hopeful I don’t and won’t have to. Just like I want you to have as much of your holiday as you want, I want, for the Jews, for it to be okay not to have it at all. And not to have anything like Christmas, in December, either, and for that to be okay, too. Chanukah isn’t even a big deal holiday. It’s okay — at least as far as I’m concerned — to admit it doesn’t register, that this is not a shared cultural moment, but that the Jews are nevertheless a valued cultural group in America.
It is best of all if you and I don’t have to be like each other to get along. It is best for America to not have to melt the pot quite so thoroughly. It is best for a Jew to be able to exist in America, being Jewish as all get out, in a land without the default assumption that an American is by definition a Christian. I say this with all the love in my heart, which is some days plenty.
Just my several cents.
*While we’re at it, are we all clear that X-Mas is spelled that way because Christ is spelled with an χ in Greek? That the name itself is Greek, Christos, meaning anointed one? It’s recently become clear to me that the War on Christmas people believe it’s so no one has to say Christ but it’s not clear to me that anyone would ever feel that way for any reason. Saying the name of a holiday you don’t believe in or embrace is actually not all that painful an experience for anybody, I would think. Nor is hearing the word “Christ” painful to anybody who is not literally a demon from hell.