Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and the December Culture Wars

I love Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah), which begins on December 11 this year, and yet I will not greet everyone I meet for the succeeding eight days, from doormen and cashiers to cab drivers and train conductors with a big ‘Happy Chanukah!’, nor do expect such a greeting from them.
I also expect that many of those same people will wish me a very merry Christmas, and I have not the slightest problem with it. In fact, I welcome sincerely offered good wishes from anyone, and fully appreciate that they are generally offered from the perspective of the one giving them, so why should it bother me?
Of course it would be an upgrade if people offered the greeting most appropriate to those they are greeting, instead of the one which they themselves would like to get. But either way, good wishes are good wishes, and I wish that more Jews could just lighten up about the whole Merry Christmas ‘thing’. By the same token, so should more Christians.


Once again there is significant numbers of people whose idea of welcoming the holiday season is spinning up the culture wars around a supposed war on Christmas. In fact, there is no war, and if there is anything about which to be concerned, it is how these Christian soldiers twist the meaning of freedom of religion.
For example, why did the American Family Association boycott the Gap, and threaten Best Buy with the same? Did these retailers disparage Christmas? Not at all, and if they had, I would totally support the boycott against them. They simply had not mentioned Christmas in their advertising. That failure was enough to provoke an aggressive campaign, with the one against Gap just terminated when Gap started running ads which celebrate Christmas.
Why is failing to mention Christmas equated with a war against it? Because not only do these people resist acknowledging the legitimacy of any views other than their own, they demand that all others acknowledge theirs or face their wrath.
As I have made clear, I love a good ‘Merry Christmas’ as much as the next guy, but this trend which confuses freedom to express one’s self with demanding support from others, is actually a quite disturbing and very real threat to the very religious freedom invoked by culture warriors like those at the AFA. Theirs is not a campaign designed to assure their right to enjoy Christmas, but a coercive insistence that all the rest of us join them, whether we like it or not!
To be sure, those who have insisted that any public celebration of Christmas runs afoul of either the Constitution’s establishment clause and/or sensitivity to all non-Christians, bare some responsibility for this mess. When people’s desire for public acknowledgment of their most deeply held beliefs is ignored, it contributes to the sense of victimhood and alienation, which culture warriors use to build support for their cause.
But even when that degree of responsibility is factored in, members of the AFA and all the other groups which use Christmas to inflict their rage, fear and insecurity on the general public need to knock it off. Ultimately this remains a country animated by both deep faith and a remarkable level of religious tolerance — one which generally rejects such religious aggression.
I look forward to being wished a merry Christmas because I know it reflects the joy and warmth of the season felt by those who use those words. But when the words ‘Merry Christmas’ become more rallying cry than warm wish, they will simply disappear from most public discourse.
In the end, the culture warriors will accomplish little more than to unleash a backlash upon themselves and upon Christmas itself. It would be sad were that to happen, even for this rabbi.

  • Rob the Rev

    I agree with you, Rabbi. This is a column I wrote for a local paper in December 05 on this faux attack on Christmas.
    We have entered another Advent/Christmas season for adherents of Christianity, and the Hanukah season for those who adhere to the Jewish faith. I find it ironic that this season, which emphasizes the angelic message of peace and good will toward our fellow human beings – regardless of their spiritual beliefs or lack thereof – is again, unfortunately, being disrupted and spoiled by the wrongheaded fanaticism of a noisy minority of intolerant people.
    This minority of rude Christians make a mountain out of a molehill by picking an unnecessary fight over how one chooses to express their seasons greetings in this multi-religious as well as secular holiday season. They presume to judge and critique another person’s spirituality and personal religious faith by whether one chooses to say or express with decorations, “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas” or perhaps even both sentiments.
    They castigate – with criticism, boycotts, and shunning – businesses, stores, and individuals that – in exercising their freedom of religion and speech – may choose to express and emphasize the more diverse and inclusive aspects of this holiday season. In doing so they do more harm than good to the cause of Jesus Christ. As a Christian I may choose to observe the birth of Christ with the traditional Christian elements but I have no right to coerce others to follow my practice! It is unloving and unchristian to do so!
    Jesus warned people, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). I would suggest that these folks should rearrange their priorities and make better use of their time and energy in this season, and all through the year, by seeking to live out in their lives more sincerely the relevant teachings of Christ Jesus rather than criticizing how others may observe this season. Jesus is concerned about the care of the least of his brothers and sisters (Matthew 23:40) and being worshiped in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24). True religion is taking care of the widow and the orphan in their distress, says St. James (1:27).
    If these folks really want to put Christ back into Christmas they should start by joining religious groups in supporting a federal budget that isn’t balanced on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable of our society. Before the U.S. House of Representatives went on Thanksgiving break, it passed $50 billion in spending cuts that target millions of poor and working-class Americans. Christians and all folks during this holiday season should want to find in their stocking a moral federal budget.
    Christians might be correct in feeling that their spiritual values are being undermined at Christmas but it is not the Jews, the progressives, and secularists who are to blame for it. It is rather those who promote the materialist marketplace, greedy consumerism, and the over commercialization of this Christian holy day, supported by Christians who buy into it and go on Christmas spending binges who are responsible. Christians are their own worst enemies in undermining their values and the true spirit of the Christmas season.
    Happy Holidays to ALL and Merry Christmas to those who happen to be Christian!

  • L.Eden

    As a nonChristian in a sea of Christianity, I like to use the greeting Happy Holidays. Many Americans with absolutely no religious affiliation do put a tree up at this time of year, as this holiday season has become a holiday wrapped with familial traditions that even nonbelievers can participate in. My “holiday tree” goes up every year to honor my Mother, who has passed, each year and ornament added to celebrate her life. But despite not having a true religious reason to celebrate I do find that my love for the people of this world is reason enough.
    Happy Holidays is a secret message I send to people every year. The secret message is “Hello my dear neighbor, I care about you and really want to wish you well this time of year…and because of this deep love for you, and because I do not know which religion you are, if any….I want to make sure I never offend you or make you feel excluded.” In just two words, Happy Holidays says all of that and more.
    I spent almost a decade taking care of dying clientel in their home, most of them Christian, but many of them not. Throughout that time I read various religious books to them, sat and prayed with them and it brought me to a deep understanding and compassion about people of many faiths. On one of my first years of working I thought many many days about what I should say to my clients, what could I say and mean it from my heart? “Happy Holidays” was born of that earnest desire to include everyone.
    Happy Holidays Rabbi, I consider your presence upon this earth one of our many blessings this Holiday season.
    May God grant us many more years of that blessing

  • Randy Rossilli, Jr.

    “December is a time of miracles. Sometimes they come in the form of a little baby, and other times in a pot of oil.”
    May all readers experience their own miracles through family traditions and the establishment of everlasting memories of the love that the season brings.
    Randy Rossilli, Jr.

  • bill holston

    Happy Chanukah …nuff said.

  • on the journey

    Well said L Eden and Happy Holidays
    Thank you

  • interpreter

    I don’t shop at Best Buy.
    Merry Christmas everybody

  • S. Lenkowsky

    The so called “war against Christmas” came as a push back to agressive Christians pushing their beliefs in everyones face. Until then no one cared about being wished a Merry Christmas. I’m sixty-one years old and remember the change starting in the 1970’s with the rise of the “Born Again” movement. The fact that you have people who listen to right-wing pundits and are very willing to hear that they are being victimized is a big part of the problem.I’ve had enough of the biggest bullies on the block.
    I remember the yearly complaint by Christians used to be that Christmas has become too commercialized. Yes it has. So why complain that a store clerk is wishing you “Happy Holiday” instead of ” Merry Christmas”? Happy Holidays is much more inclusive to everyone and I appreciate it.
    If you need to have your holiday validated by a minium wage clerk you’re not looking for your religion
    in the right place. If the over the top commercialism is out of the stores then maybe the real meaning will go back where it belongs to Christians and the clergy.
    S. Lenkowsky

  • William Lee Goff

    Some years ago I had the privelage of taking a class in Jerusalem taught by Rabbi Pesach Schindler. As December 25th approached he said, “To all of those of you in my class who are Christians, I want to wish you a very merry Christmas. And I want to remind you that if it had not been for Hanukkah, there would have not been a Christmas.”
    I am a Christian, but this year my wife and I bought a menorah to include in holiday celebrations. It’s my way of remembering that my Christian heritage and beliefs are firmly rooted in the history of God’s people, the children of Abraham. Happy Hanukkah to all

  • Bonnie

    To those devout zealots who have boycotted Gap and Best Buy I say: show your faith by opening your pocketbooks to the bellringers with the red buckets found in front of many of them; or donate that new toy to Toys For Tots; or gather all your good used clothes and household items and donate them to Goodwill, or the Disabled Veterans. Live your faith; don’t just expound on it.

  • Suzy L.

    We are not a Christian nation. The founding fathers based many of the ideals we hold dear on the Enlightenment and philosophers such as John Locke. Do not confuse the fact that the majority of people living in America are Christian with our government being Christian. What I’ve seen in the last few years is Christian revisionist history. Many of the founding fathers didn’t consider themselves “Christian” but Deists. Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus but believed he was a teacher. Jefferson actually took a bible and cut out all Jesus’ miracles and pasted it back together thus omitting all miracles.
    We even have it stated as a matter of policy that we are not a Christian nation , Treaty of Tripoli 1797 ” America is not in any sense based on the Christian religion.” – George Washington
    I’d like to point out that Islam is a fast growing religion and could someday be the majority in America . Would that make America a Muslim nation? The Evangelicals of the colonial period fought hard against any state sponsored religion because they felt it would stop religious freedom. Admittedly it was self-serving as they saw a rise in the number of Catholics and feared for their rights.
    Thomas Jefferson believed if religion is involved in government religion will suffer. James Madison believed if religion is involved in government then our government will suffer. They were both right.
    And just so it’s clear….I’m Jewish.
    Suzy L.

  • Maria

    Wow this is very interesting, i actually liked this blog, thanks for sharing this with us. great work, keep it up. Would love to see more work from you.
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  • Harriet B

    The reason that so many people celebrate Thanksgiving, and REALLY celebrate it, is that when the Pilgrims and Puritans first came to these shores, the celebration of Christmas was forbidden. In New England, it remained that way for quite some time.

  • Shelia

    Thank you for posting this blog, it’s not only timely, but extremely insightful. As a Christian, I get so tired of the “December Wars” being waged. Between the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas, I’ve just started wishing people a Happy December. I know it’s a little strange, but most people understand what I’m trying to say. It sure beats getting beat up (not physically) every time I wish someone “Happy Holidays”.

  • Heather H.

    “Holiday” means “holy day”, so I welcome anyone wishing me “happy holidays”.
    As a Christian, I can’t understand the mindset that my religion is “under attack” in the U.S. since those we seem to be “under attack” from claim to be fellow Christians! I can’t understand why we (Christians) can’t be more open to others choosing to believe what they want. It’s their choice and we can’t make it for them. All we can do is share what we believe and maybe Hashem will put it on their hearts to change.
    Besides, the celebrations of Christmas this time of year and Easter in the spring are a throwback to pagan times. Christmas/Holiday trees and Easter eggs have pagan origins. That’s one reason why certain Christ-based groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate those holidays.
    All of this matters little to me. I see Christmas as both a religious & secular holiday. I sometimes think that our consumerism may be a little out-of-hand but I’m still glad to find the latest and greatest gadget under my tree. I think if most of us can be honest we’d agree that even though it is better to give than receive, receiving feels nice, if only for a moment.

  • Your Name

    Tea Partiers in CA are taking up the “Xmas Wars” with a state wide initiative. Interesting that these folks want the government to stay out of your lives except in the case of religion, reproductive freedom, and GLBT human rights. What hypocrits!
    From the Huffington Post
    Merry Hyatt, Tea Party Patriot, Wants Mandatory Christmas Carols In Public Schools
    The Huffington Post | Rachel Weiner
    First Posted: 12-10-09 01:15 PM | Updated: 12-10-09 04:55 PM
    It’s called the “Freedom to Present Christmas Music in Public School Classrooms or Assemblies” initiative.
    Merry Hyatt, a substitute teacher and member of the Redding Tea Party Patriots, is behind the push. The Record Searchlight reports:
    The initiative would require schools to provide children the opportunity to listen to or perform Christmas carols, and would subject the schools to litigation if the rule isn’t followed.
    Schools currently are allowed to offer Christmas music as long as it is used for academic purposes rather than devotional purposes and isn’t used to promote a particular religious belief, according to an analysis by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
    Parents are allowed to have their students opt out of the caroling if they express that desire in advance.
    “We were having Christmas without Jesus,” Hyatt complained of her previous school district.
    The initiative has the support of the local Tea Party Patriots president.
    Read the complete column here:

  • Rob the Rev

    I’m “No Name,” above, who posted the Huffington Post column.

  • Your Name

    The article completely depicts how to handle our beliefs, yet allows–without judgement–the acknowledgement of others beliefs. Tolerence and acceptance of the intent and warmth intended, rather than a call to war, is one of the principles this country was established upon.
    I especially like the comment posted above by “No Name” (later identified as “Rob the Rev:”
    “Tea Partiers in CA are taking up the “Xmas Wars” with a state wide initiative. Interesting that these folks want the government to stay out of your lives except in the case of religion, reproductive freedom, and GLBT human rights. What hypocrits!”
    To each of you, Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas translated to the religious equivalant in your belief.). I will do the same and not be offended (or try to convert you), should you wish me Happy …. from your belief system.

  • Ian Crouch

    I must say, that as a Christian myself I fully agree with your commentary on this subject. I like to believe myself as a very open minded individual, and while I do like to throw out the occasional Merry Christmas this time of year, I make sure to reserve that for those who have greeted me in like first. I have Jewish friends and make sure to greet them in accordance as well. I usually say Happy Holidays to all others, because you really never know whom it is you are greeting and what it is that they believe. I do agree also that the issue of boycotts etc. because an advertisement fails to favor one holiday over another is ridiculous and atrocious. It in no way offends me to greet people at large with Happy Holidays and I know that for most, they also would not find that offensive. And from my beliefs standpoint this is supposed to be a season for giving and sharing, so why would using a little bit of restraint and tact with the sensitivities of others in mind be such a stretch? At least that is my opinion on the matter. And seriously, people who call themselves Christian and try to dictate to others how they should live and believe really need to go back and re-study the lessons of our beliefs in my humble opinion. Well that’s my soapbox on the matter! I really enjoy this newsletter and site. Keep up the good work!

  • The Grown Up Teenager

    HA! I just wrote a blog on this (I’ve linked directly to it, for anyone who is interested).
    It never ceases to amaze me that people get offended by a well wish, even one that isn’t in line with their own religious beliefs. Wish me Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or anything else friendly and I will invariably smile and wish the same to you.
    Sometimes, we’re far too religiously sensitive and end up interpreting a kind wish as malice. At that point, I think we’ve all lost the good in our religion.

  • Theresa

    Christians have celebrated the birth of Jesus and Christmas was first celebrated on various dates from about 200 A.D. but was finally set on December 25 in 354 A.D
    In the West today, the real meaning of Christmas is forgotten.
    One reason in my opinion we use to be a nation under ONE GOD…one culture & now it has become a melting pot of many, there is the problem. (chaos) Everybody wants their way…we don’t have enough space for that…unless you divide the states out into it’s religion and culture…is that what people really want…culture war? The reason for the season is the birth of our Lord…Jesus Christ..the only GOD that I’m aware of who sacraficed His life for mine & yours!
    The home of the first Christmas tree was Riga Latvia in year 1510 by Martin Luther. The tradition of decorated tree in the White House began in 1889 on Christmas morning during the Presidency of Benjamin Harrison.The first known electrically illuminated Christmas tree was the creation of Edward H. Johnson, on December 22, 1882. Stay with the facts…it’s only fair!

  • Emily with the Kippah

    Theresa, I believe that Mithras, Bacchus-Orpheus, Osiris, Heracles (Hercules), Attis, and Adonis also served as savior-gods granting immortality to their believers. I’ll give Christianity credit for this: no other religion I know of really knew how to absorb and synchronize the way it did.

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