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Virtual Talmud

News flash: Most Americans really don’t care what they are being told at the checkout counter. Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas. There are few moments where I favor disengagement over engagement, but this issue is one of them. This is a lose-lose matchup that highlights just how silly and futile this secular vs. religious battle has become.

I can’t help but laugh and cry all at once when I hear somone trying to defend either side. It reminds me of those famous 1980s Budweiser Beer commercials where two drunkards get into a fist fight over something as silly as does the beer “taste great or is it less filling.” The Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays debate demonstrates how at a certain point two sides can become so intoxicated with the fight itself that they forget about what they were fighting about in the first place.

Can someone please tell me when a used car salesman and the lady at Bloomingdales trying to sell me a bottle of cologne became the High Priests of American life? Most commentators and pundits have turned Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays into a fight between secularism run amok and religious fundamentalism gone wild. Unfortunately, the only winner in this battaille royale is political correctness.

The loosers in all of this are, of course, the holidays themselves. It seems that this Christmas and Hanukkah Americans, pathetically, have traded in canon law and halakha for the rules and regulations of corporate America. The scope and meaning of these sacred days are now based on the advertising whims of some CEO at Walmart. By making this into a “serious” issue, we as a country have made corporate America the final voice over all aspects of our lives. How sad.

Maybe it’s because I am New Yorker, but I just don’t care all that much about what someone says to me as I am running out of the store to catch the next train uptown. Sure, some nicety with a thank-you puts a smile on my face–but for only about a half a second. It’s a sad statement on our culture that we are more concerned with the perfunctory words muttered over a receipt then we are with the substantive words intoned by rabbis, ministers, and priests.

Sure, as a student and worshipper of religion, I would be thrilled if what we were discussing was the theological significance of Jesus’ birth, the religious worldview of the Maccabees, and the role of miracles in history. But I know that kind of stuff does not exactly excite the people who monitor the Nielsen ratings.

But what about some simple old-fashioned message about Jesus as someone who brought love into this world and helped feed those who were hungry? Why can’t we hear more about about redemption and the basic message of Hanukkah that good guys do win. Why can’t we hear more about love and charity and less about the formalities, manners, and mores of saying hello and goodbye?

By making this a debate about two words mumbled over a checkout counter we have turned the holidays into the same products we are buying. Two thousand years of literature, celebration, and worship have been boiled down to the lowest common denominator of do you or don’t you say Merry Christmas! C’mon. We’re not two-year-olds who need to be taught how to say hello and goodbye. Can we all just grow up a little, and move on to something that really matters?

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