There’s a woman in Memphis who gets offended when someone greets her with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Imagine how offended she would be if she knew that I was Jewish when I wished her a “Happy Holiday”. It’s hard not to get caught up in the celebratory spirit of this time of year no matter what your religious belief, or whether you even celebrate anything in December. So it is a month when spirits are high and there is a collective feeling of warmth amongst us. We take the time to wish each other happiness in a personal way that is comfortable to each of us. And that’s shameful to the woman in Memphis.
Jews have always had a difficult time of it in December. The commercial bombardment on tv, the radio, print advertisements, billboards, and Christmas music seems to assail us wherever we go. It is rare that one hears the “Dreidel Song” or the story of the Maccabees anywhere other than a private home, synagogue or Jewish Community Center during this time. December is the month when we feel most invisible and often unwelcome, such as the woman in Memphis would like us to be.
Though our family is Jewish, we celebrate December holidays with a nod to our multiculturalism. In our home and community we embrace, respect and honor everyone’s religious belief and their choice of celebration. Of course we light one candle on each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah and we display a lit menorah in our window as well as hang a Hanukkah banner above our front door. We also display the many Christmas cards we receive from our Christian friends, family and colleagues. We receive red and green wrapped Christmas presents from our relatives who celebrate Christmas and share Christmas greetings with our neighbors. And on December 5 we all get our initials in chocolate to remember Sinterklaas from our family’s Dutch heritage.
If we know that someone celebrates Christmas then we wish them a Merry Christmas. If we don’t know them well enough to know their religious beliefs, then we wish them Happy Holidays. It would be presumptuous and arrogant of us to assume that everyone around us celebrates Christmas.
Food is something that unites people of many different backgrounds. And in December, it shows. Of course, we make latkes, a potato pancake fried in oil which represents the miracle of the oil that burned after the destruction of the Temple during the time of the Maccabees.
But in the spirit of embracing our diversity, we also use that oil to fry loempia, a Dutch-Indonesian eggroll. The understanding and acceptance of diversity begins at home. And what better time to teach this than during the holiday season.
So to the woman in Memphis, who cannot see beyond her own bubble of church, religion, community, listen to me. December is not only for you, it is for all of us. For all of us who choose to celebrate or not. To celebrate Christmas or not. To celebrate Hanukkah or not. To celebrate Kwanzaa or not. To celebrate St. Nicholas Day or not. To celebrate Festivus or not. Or not to celebrate at all. December is about respect, tolerance and acceptance.
When I say “Happy Holidays” to you, relax, smile, and enjoy the season.