I just don’t get “Happy Holidays” as a greeting at this time of the year; certainly not between people of the same religion, but even between strangers out in the streets.

Why can’t two Jews say Happy Chanukah to one another? And yet, even at the synagogue “Happy Holidays” seems to be the standard fare.

Why can’t two Christians says “Merry Christmas?” And, yet yesterday at Starbucks I overheard two Christians part ways not with “merry Christmas” but having sold out to multiculturalism, hypersensitive pluralism, meaningless “happy holidays” – a sad, sad summation of their day.

I know that some of us are not Christian. I know that it’s hard for Jews this time of the year. We Jews have always struggled during this “holiday season.” It is why Irving Berlin was “dreaming of a white Christmas.” It is why Jews, by and large, have wrote and performed so many Christmas songs (does anyone really think Barbara Streisand is Christian?).

I am aware of the complexities of what this holiday entails for us Jews. However, it is time to get past our sensitivities. When speaking to our Christian brothers and sisters, or even just speaking to a stranger on the streets, we should wish them “merry Christmas” not “happy holidays” and certainly not be offended if this is how they wish us well. And here is why:

  • 96% of Americans celebrate Christmas, and though I’m no gambling man, odds are pretty good that a “Happy Kwanzaa” (which only 1% of Americans celebrate) will probably miss the mark.
  • “Happy Holidays” is confusing. Whose holidays are we talking about? My holiday of Chanukah is long over and we never really know when Ramadan falls. This is the week of Christmas and “merry Christmas” is the proper response.
  • It’s a beautiful day – it’s blissful and calm on Christmas and the closest we get all year long to quiet and peace (plus how awesome is Chinese food erev (night of) Christmas and the movie theaters are empty on their yom tov (holiday)).
  • “Happy Holidays” is fearful. I want to live in a society where we celebrate one another’s distinctions not demand watered down sameness.
  • The days of Jews writing Christmas songs is over. Today, on the contrary, we have Matisyahu’s new Chanukah song “Miracle.” It is wildly ethnic, Jewishly bold, and unabashed in it’s Chanukah message. It’s a new dawn of Jewish identity and we should have no fear of assimilation, persecution and saying “Merry Christmas” with confidence and consideration.
  • I have spent three weeks listening to YouTube Chanukah songs played over and over and over by my kids. It’s great that there’s a Jewish Renaissance of identity and music but no more Macabeats “Candlelight”!!!! I’m ready for a little Jingle Bells.
  • Family members of mine, friends of mine and congregants of mine are Christian. It’s their holiday. I love them and want to wish them well on their terms.
  • Although Jesus is not my Messiah, he is a rabbi to be respected. It’s his birthday. My Christian brethren celebrate it and “merry Christmas” is what they say.
  • So what if I don’t celebrate Christmas? When my friends have a birthday I join them, celebrating them, even if it isn’t my special day.

So, to all my Jewish friends – a belated Happy Chanukah; to all those that celebrate Kwanzaa – Happy Kwanzaa, whoever you might be.

To all the Muslims who celebrate Ramadan – a blessed Ramadan whenever it arrives.

And to the rest of you, the 96% of our American brothers and sisters, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers in the street – “Merry Christmas”!

You ought to hear it, have a right to say it and I’ll take no offense if that is what you say to me as we pass in the streets. And since this Christmas is on Shabbat don’t forget to throw in a Shabbat Shalom as well.

Won’t it be a great day when Merry Christmas and Shabbat Shalom is what we say on the streets….

Rabbi B
Baruch HaLevi

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