When I was growing up, I always felt irritated when the kids at school looked shocked when they asked, "You don't celebrate Christmas?!" To me, it wasn't that big of a deal, it was just what I knew. I didn't avoid fun celebrations or get-togethers with my friends, I just didn't celebrate the actual holiday. Even now, people still assume I won't take part in fun festivities like Secret Santa and Christmas parties just because I'm Jewish. Those assumptions will always annoy me, but one thing I've never been at all bothered by is people wishing me a Merry Christmas.
To me, "Merry Christmas" is the equivalent of, "Have a great weekend" or "Enjoy the rest of your day." It's a nice, well-intentioned wish applied to a period of time. For the most part, when people wish me a Merry Christmas, I take it as, "I wish you a pleasant time over the festive period."
I think a greeting like "Merry Christmas" is a joyous way to convey this festive feeling. I don't feel that someone is attacking my Jewish faith or culture if they wish me a Merry Christmas. Instead, I feel included in their Christmas joy.
Don't get me wrong, it's always nice if someone asks if I actually celebrate Christmas, because this generates interesting conversations. I'm happy to share my experiences of Hanukkah with others, but I also share my family's version of Christmas. For instance, we don't do Christmas presents, but we do have a delicious kosher Christmas dinner. One year we even had a tiny tree which my mom brought home from work. It was made from tinsel and decorated with Quality Street wrappers. We called it our Hanukkah tree and kept it up for Christmas.
Would it be nice for people to say "Happy Hanukkah" (or even better, "Chag Sameach") during the actual days of Hanukkah? Yes. Am I offended that people don't? No. It makes sense that "Merry Christmas" has become a standard greeting for people, because, after all, Christmas is a national holiday that we observe as a country, even if we don't necessarily celebrate it as individuals.
In addition to literally being a verbal acknowledgement of a public holiday, it's also a phrase that bonds people together. Let's face it, the Christmas spirit is infectious. Haven't you ever noticed how, when the twinkly lights come out and the songs start playing everywhere you go, strangers are kinder to each other? I think a greeting like "Merry Christmas" is a joyous way to convey this festive feeling. I don't feel that someone is attacking my Jewish faith or culture if they wish me a Merry Christmas. Instead, I feel included in their Christmas joy.
But in recent years there has been a lot of discussion on how society can make the festive period all-inclusive. One way is to offer "Happy Holidays" as an inclusive alternative to "Merry Christmas." Whilst this is a great sentiment, it's not a change I'm actively campaigning for because I don't feel particularly excluded. Personally, "Happy Holidays" is just a different bauble from the same tree. In fact, because it has been so heavily politicized and debated, "Happy Holidays" is ironically slowly losing its meaning for me!
As society's celebration of Christmas has become increasingly commercial and secular, it's enabled those of different cultures and faiths to take part in cultural Christmas traditions which coexist alongside religious practices. Because of this, "Merry Christmas" has become an accessible way of greeting each other. Additionally, the religious connotations of "Merry Christmas" are still deep and meaningful. Having spent past Christmases celebrating with the Christian members of my family, the spiritual and religious significance of this time of year isn't wasted on me. In fact, it's nice to glean an insight into how different people celebrate the holidays.
All in all, aside from any political, cultural, or religious perspective, "Merry Christmas" also works on a simple, practical level. Picture the scene: it's a crowded shopping mall. The weather is cold. The music is blaring. The cashier hands me my bag and with a toothy grin says, "Merry Christmas." I smile back, because her happiness is contagious, and I leave knowing I will have a great Christmas, just in a different way.