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.