Friday, December 08, 2006


A question about holiday greetings elicited a number of comments on the PresbyBlog site, most of them lighthearted. My own vignettes on the subject:

The topic of appropriate greetings actually comes up for me all the time, since I teach in a Jewish school. It seems clear to me that it would be the height of rudeness and insensitivity to wish a Merry Christmas to someone who finds in Christianity a flat negation of everything she holds dear. On the other hand, I think it's a gesture of generosity to extend the appropriate greeting to someone who celebrates an event that you do not. Some of my students wish me a Merry Christmas with great warmth. Others tell me that it is halachically (legally) forbidden for them to do so.

A couple of mornings ago I walked in to work from the snow humming music from the Messiah that had been playing on my car CD. The front hallway had been decorated with rather an abundance of huge construction-paper dreidels hanging from the ceiling. Dreidels and an off-key "For unto us a child is born..." ~ that's my day.

The other night I asked the janitors, neither of any evident religious persuasion, whether they celebrate Christmas. They both do, and laughed about being in the minority where we work. "OK," I said. "I'm just looking for people to whom I can say "Merry Christmas" at the appropriate time." I admit it; I miss it. That same night one of the men on the personnel committee at church came to a meeting directly from work wearing a tie decorated with Christmas trees. That would just not fly at my place of employment ~ although I do wear a lot of Celtic jewelry and no one comments. I think most people have no idea about the symbolism, although I know for sure that one person does.

I love Christmas lights. Like many parents, we used to pile our jammied-kids in the car one evening during the holidays and drive them around to see all the lights, including the extravaganza at the local lighting company. I've always loved late-night drives during this season, thinking about what the lights represent. And then a few years ago I was reading a Chaim Potok novel in which one of the characters thinks, as he walks home through the city streets one Christmas night after school, that each light represents to him one of six million fellow Jews murdered in the Holocaust. You might find that a bit extreme if you're not Jewish, but it's seldom far from my mind, the thought of what might have happened to any of my own students had they been born two or three generations earlier. So I still love Christmas lights, but now there's a certain inner tension that I balance as I gaze at them.

Tension. I guess that's what we don't appreciate during the holidays. Christmas or Passover; we want interactions among strangers to go smoothly and meals to go well. It's not so easy, but I persist in believing that the way to make it easier is to acknowledge the complications.

So . . . for my winter photo today, I'm avoiding both my own advice and monotheistic celebrations, and going with the Greeks, as revived in the cemetery where I walk.

And it's Friday. Shabbat Shalom.


Lisa C. said...

We are actually doing a story on this, or at least the idea of businesses and how they greet shoppers. Wal-Mart this year decided it was going to say Merry Christmas, by God, no matter whom it offends.
As for me, I always buy cards that say "Happy Holidays." If I know a person celebrates Christmas, I write Merry Christmas inside the card, or Happy Hannukah if the person is Jewish. The season is about good will, not drawing a line in the sand.

Cynthia said...

I think we have to recognize and respect that tension. What an absolutely perfect way to describe that recognition of how what is beautiful and sacred to you may feel toxic and destructive to someone else, and you are both right.

Carol said...

As a Jew living in a decidedly non-Jewish society, I welcome and appreciate your sensitivity to the diversity of our nation and the numerous faiths and practices of our citizenry. I find myself wishing almost everyone, "Happy Holidays" or , "Have a great holiday". It just feels more comfortable to me than "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Chanukah" unless I know the person very well.
And Shabbat Shalom back atcha! The day of rest is welcome right now--if only I could take advantage of it!

Lisa :-] said...

You speak to my belief (voiced in a comment over at Cynthia') that human religion is one of man's biggest and most persistent f-ups. Why do we hold in such regard something that gives us one more reason to inflict pain, discomfort, judgmentalism, whatever negative...upon each other? As humans, our priorities are dangerously misaligned.

Okay, I'm off my soap box now... :P