I’ve shared a version of this in years past. This year, however, with Chanukah behind us, it seems more apropos than ever to have the conversation again. Look, I’m no grinch, just the opposite, which is why I don’t wish people, “Happy Holidays” this time of year.

Sure, I understand that “Happy Holidays” is a way not to make people feel excluded, to create for the minority of Americans who don’t celebrate Christmas (which is a mere 5% of us by the way) a sense of inclusion. I get it. I’m a big fan of multi-culturaism if what you mean by that is acknowledging and understanding other cultures beyond our own. Multi-cultarism, however, far too often means dumbing down our cultures, reducing them to the lowest common denominators which all too often leaves us speaking gibberish and missing a true opportunity to learn and connect.

After all, this year by December 25th, Chanukah is history. Exactly who’s holidays are we referring to going forward? Clearly, we are talking about Christmas. 

However, even when the two religious holidays of Chanukah and Christmas overlap, I’m still not a fan of “Happy Holidays.” I want to live in a world where we say “Happy Chanukah” to those who celebrate Chanukah and “Merry Christmas” to those who celebrate Christmas. 

Of course we can’t always know what the person whom we’re speaking to believes or practices as a faith. That, however, is the point. Maybe we should look a little closer, dig a little deeper, or just ask – “do you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or both, neither or something else?” Granted it’s a little bit clumsy but you get the point. This is more than just simple greetings. Rather, it’s about a human encounter of two would be strangers who perhaps could learn a little more about the other, where they come from and what they are about.

And, yes, I know that for some Jews being wished “Merry Christmas” can bring up a myriad of conflicted feelings. However, why should that be someone else’s problem? Why should that render the other 95% of our fellow Americans stuck with an impotent, and this year absurd, holiday greeting?

Lastly, I don’t want to be a part of a religion that is reactionary or a society that lives in fear. If you, your children and grandchildren have a strong sense of Jewish identity and a robust expression of Judaism – there’s nothing to fear in receiving a lovely greeting of Merry Christmas. It’s even a tremendous opportunity to become a Maccabee of Spirit and wear our Judaism on your sleeve. “Thank you so much for the ‘Merry Christmas,'” you might say. “Actually I’m Jewish and celebrate Chanukah but truly wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, indeed” – or something like that.

So, to all my Jewish friends – a belated Happy Chanukah.

To all those that celebrate Kwanza – Happy Kwanza (though I’ve never actually met anyone who does).

To all the Muslims who celebrate Ramadan – a blessed Ramadan though not until next July.

And to the rest of you, some 95% of my American brothers and sisters, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues  – “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 one another, no longer as strangers, but as sisters and brothers who happen to have different religions, different holidays and different holiday greetings. Let’s not apologize for differences, rather, let’s preserve them, celebrate them and, at the very least, wish one another Happy New Year – on that much we can certainly agree. 

Merry Christmas, 

Rabbi B
Baruch HaLevi

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