Re Merry Christmas
Sunday December 08th 2013, 12:29 am
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

I saw a post that you always see about this time of year about putting the Merry Christmas back in Christmas and requiring it of others (think shopkeepers), not an insipid Happy Holidays, and, it was implied, not apologizing for one’s faith but standing up for it. Political correctness was a phrase presented and condemned.

I understand and agree with the need not to apologize for what you believe in. And if someone wants to say Merry Christmas in their store, I for one enjoy it.

And yet there is a greater context in how we address one another in the public sphere than any one person’s beliefs, and I can’t imagine telling someone they had to say such a thing to sustain their business.

My mother once offered a small gift to a neighbor  in December. Our two families each had four daughters in corresponding ages and we kids were always in and out of each other’s houses. (Hey Mom! What’s for dinner? Oh–can I eat at the…?)

They would occasionally invite one of us to share their evening spin-the-dreidel games. This was very much their family time at a special time of year. To be included was a great honor.

Mom knocked on the door some day around then, that gift in her hand, offering her best wishes for a happy Hanukkah–and was surprised at how surprised and grateful the neighbor mom was: Mom was honoring her in her own tradition’s ways of choosing to seek God in our lives, not trying to impose her own. Words are small things but like every act of kindness, they are huge: she exclaimed to Mom, Happy Hanukkah? Everybody always said Merry Christmas to them!

Mom, stunned, But don’t they know you’re Jewish?! (Everybody in the neighborhood knew everybody in those days.)

Yes, they do.

Well then, but why??

I guess people would just assume they would get the cultural context of, simply, I’m wishing you all the best.

And yet, to actually convey that intent well would have been so easy to do. This family had lost members twenty years earlier to the Holocaust, extinguished from this life for the prejudices of others against their religion and people.

I type this having given away many a knitted finger puppet at any random time of the year with the phrase Merry Christmas (and a book a few days ago, for that matter) as a way of saying this is a gift from me–not a temporary offer; I’m not expecting it back. Remembering Mom’s story she told me a few years ago, I’ve been trying to have the phrase that automatically pops out of my mouth now be Happy Birthday instead. Same message conveyed: love is what is really being offered. Sometimes I get it right.

It stung Mom that others had not offered what she saw as basic, simple politeness to such good people so dear to her and her very willingness to be vulnerable to their unspoken pain created a tender, vulnerable, memorable moment she never forgot.

May there be peacemaking on earth, goodwill among all men; we are all His children and all who seek to do good are all His own.

6 Comments so far
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I have had two dear Jewish friends at different times in my life, and we exchanged gifts and/or cards honoring both their beliefs and mine. It’s quite simple really… and is how friendship (respect?) should work.

Comment by Channon 12.08.13 @ 7:13 am

You brought back memories. In elementary school my first grade teacher was Mrs Brandt, and there were three Jewish kids in the class (the rest of the 18 either Catholic or Protestant.) That year, I got to be the “narrator” of the holiday play and introduce the story of the dreidel. When my daughter was roughly the same age, her school in England made candleholders for Diwali when an Indian girl joined the class, and like the Hanukkah play there were songs and stories to introduce and share a classmate’s culture. And in Kansas, an Indian family lived next door to my parents and wanted to join in with the Christmas decorating so my mom gave them some ornaments. Some may say joining in isn’t sincere but like you I think the respect of culture and sharing of traditions makes this a lovely time of year. Not so keen on shopping but love all the stories, traditions and especially the LIGHTS!

Comment by LynnM 12.08.13 @ 10:07 am

Thank you Alison

Comment by Afton 12.08.13 @ 1:56 pm

Your thoughts are so appreciated. A former boss, a good guy, was sad about how the Christmas lunch had become the holiday lunch and he was tired of “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. I sympathized with his feeling of loss but also told him how much it meant to me, not a Christian, to be wished gladness in words more meaningful to me, though I certainly took no offence when told Merry Christmas. A few days later he sent out his holiday gifts, beautiful Zygocacti. My card read “Happy Solstice!” He remains, to this day, at the top of my favorite boss list. And that Solstice cactus is in bloom at my side, right this moment.

Comment by twinsetellen 12.08.13 @ 8:33 pm

Have you seen the t-shirt that says on the front (in Comic Sans, ugh), “Liberals say ‘Happy Holidays'” and then on the back, in gothic lettering, “Merry Christmas”? I want one of those with the same words on the front (but not in Comic Sans), and “Happy Holidays” on the back.

Comment by Virginia 12.08.13 @ 11:52 pm

As always, thanks for your generosity and willingness to share what might be an unpopular opinion. You’re much nicer about this than I am!

Comment by Beth in Maryland 12.09.13 @ 11:10 am

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