I am a Jew. I grew up in an observant Jewish home in which we greeted Christmas with a mixture of fascination, respect and irritation. Jackie Mason once said, “I don’t understand something about Christmas; maybe you can explain this to me? Why is it that this time of year you Christian people bring all of the trees inside the house and take all the lights and put then outside”. I have always loved that line. It captured my general feeling of bemusement about the whole Christmas celebration. I didn’t get it.
My feelings were mixed for a variety of reasons. My Dad had a retail store so the weeks leading up to Christmas were always a time of tension and brutally long hours of work. The traffic on the roads, crowds in the stores, and the saturation of television (especially in those pre- cable times) and radio airwaves with programs and music left me very glad to have it over on December 26th.
As a kid, I felt excluded by the whole Christian celebration. I didn’t get it. I found the incessant Christmas music on the radio punishing, the goodwill frenzy unsettling and the talk about Jesus (in whose divinity I was not supposed to believe) uncomfortable.
As a result, I was always just a little unsure of how to respond when some well meaning person would wish me a Merry Christmas. I would feel simultaneous but diametrically opposed urges to
Thank the person and try to summon a convincing Merry Christmas in return
Say,” Thanks Very much but I don’t celebrate Christmas and then deal with the uncomfortable explanations and apologies.
Pretend I did not hear.
I am ashamed to admit it today but I was, at first, pleased when I saw, over the years, the ACLU types began pushing “Merry Christmas” out of the vocabulary of cultural discourse in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays”.
I’ve grownup, though, and I’ve grown into a new perspective on this whole matter question and, today, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I have a new response. It’s really simple-
I stop what I am doing
I thank them very sincerely
I wish them a Merry Christmas in return.
I have come to see quite clearly that even if there are politically correct, multi-cultural, morally relativistic, post modern progressive busybodies who would like us to believe that our Christian friends’ and Neighbors’ spontaneous Christmas wishes are somehow injurious to us and our culture, they are nothing of the kind. A sincere “Merry Christmas is better for you than the blandest, most guarded “Happy Holidays”
You see, the U.S. was founded by Christians. Not just any Christians. The early colonists were both devout and independent. They were fervent Protestants whose purpose in coming here was to leave the Kings, Priests, state religions and archaic laws of the old world behind. They came here to build a country where every man could read scripture for himself and be his own priest, where he could be free to elect political leadership that he could follow gladly. Ultimately, that enterprise gave rise to the constitution and form of government we have today. At two hundred years old it is still the one in the entire world that best honors the individual and guarantees his rights.
It was these fiercely independent Protestants who set the tone for the nation in which we now live. It is important to remember that they were deeply religious people. When Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and the rest decided that there would be no Official Religion in this country they were aiming for Freedom of Religion not Freedom from Religion. They meant the freedom to practice your religion after the dictates of your conscience .
This is why America has become the destination of choice for any one wishing to escape repression or lack of opportunity elsewhere in the world. That's why Jews have gravitated here for two hundred years. But we are in danger of forgetting how this all works and I think this whole Merry Christmas thing is a symptom of that amnesia.
Fortunately, though, Jews do have a collective memory of stories if we just listen to them. My grand father told me stories about life in turn-of-the(last)–century Eastern Europe so I know what he escaped by coming here (not to mention that he was not in Zhitomir, his home town, thirty years later when the Waffen SS slaughtered thirty six thousand Jews there in one day!). I also have a friend who came here from Leningrad in the Seventies. He has told me many stories. Just few months ago, I worked with a client named Miriam who told me how she grew up in newly-born Israel after her family was expelled from Morocco in 1948. Each of these stories and so many others just like them have convinced me that The United States of America, as conceived by her Protestant founders, has been a miracle and a blessing to the entire human race. It has been especially important to the Jewish people.
We Jews are barely over one percent of the population here. We (a lot of us anyway) take pride in our contribution and participation to America’s dynamism. We point with satisfaction to the fact that the founding fathers of this country were inspired and informed by our holy book which they called The Old Testament. Many of them read it in the original Hebrew, something few of us modern Jews can do.
But why do I need to explain this? Why don’t we all understand the centrality of the Protestant ethic to the goodness of America? Partly, it’s because of a lack in the educational program. But it’s also because our media, whose responsibility it should be to make us aware of the important events and issues. But the media is often found to be doing just the opposite.
In the media, America is assailed daily for her imperfections; and if not assailed, then damned by the faintest of praise. The media’s emphasizes the imperfections instead of the achievements- the discords not the harmony. Hasn’t America (and her allies) banished the Taliban to isolated caves and mud huts in remotest Waziristan? Didn’t we free Afghan women to live more normal lives without the threat of torture, rape and summary execution for the crime of being female? Can’t, now, Afghans to grow beards to their own liking, listen to music, laugh in public send their daughters to school and have simple human dignity? Oh, well, yes, the press will whine, but there is still poverty, the occasional bombing and we never caught Osama bin Laden. Well then, have we also not saved thousands of Kurds, and non Baathist Muslims in Iraq from the depredations of Saddam and his two evil sons- people who raped and murdered fifteen year-old girls and put their political enemies (alive and feet-first) into industrial shredding machines just to hear them scream? Perhaps, but our press prefers to talk about a few incompetent American soldiers (who were punished for their stupidity) deriding and humiliating their Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib and equating that with the horrors of Saddam.
I am one Jew who is all for the kind of spirit and strength of character that gets expressed at this time of year by wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. I’ll certainly take it over Allah HuAkbar. Give me Peace on Earth” and “Good Will Toward Men” over “Eternal Jihad” and “Dhimmi Status for Infidels” anytime.
If we do anything this holiday season, we need to loosen up and get a perspective on this “Merry Christmas” thing. It is not the people who say “Merry Christmas” and mean it that we need to be discouraging in America at this time. It is the people who find something wrong and suspect in the energy, enthusiasm and good-will that animates that “Merry Christmas” that we need to discourage.
The secular, morally blind, multi-cultural, Progressive ignoramuses who dare to equate the fully investigated, litigated, redressed and punished mistakes of a few misguided soldiers Abu Grhaib and Haditha with the bloody reign of terror under Saddam Hussein display their ignorance twice- First, because and find no moral difference are the same moral idiots who make excuses for the thousands of rockets a day that are being intentionally fired at the civilian population of Israel, rockets loaded with explosives, ball bearings and nails so as to injure and maim indiscriminately but still insist that any attempt to hunt down and stop the terrorists responsible for these rockets is equivalent or even worse.
The choice is between warm hearted friends with morals and ethics and heartless enemies with no moral compass who think they can rationalize almost anything with reasonable sounding, non-judgmental sophistry. Do you need a moment to think about that?
By saying “Merry Christmas” in public we are not agreeing that Jesus was the son of God, we are just acknowledging that some very good people believe it. When we say it, that does not constitute accepting Jesus as our personal savior; it does show his followers that we see them as fellow countrymen, friends and brothers-in-arms in the defense of the highest ideals of our civil society. What is the problem with that?
The first four words of this essay “I am a Jew”, are exactly the words that Daniel Pearl was forced to say on camera just before he was pinned down and his head was sawn off. I'd like you to try a little thought experiment simulating a better world here- Pretend that the next sentence that I write followed that first one and I had no need for the rest of the explanation in between...
"Have a Merry Christmas"
As fellow Jew, I can sign under every word of this essay. Happy Hanukkah (belated)! And for all our Christian friends - Merry Christmas!
I have often found myself getting irritated when people wish me 'Merry Christmas,' but after reading your post, I'm having a change of heart. Well said, my friend. And Merry Christmas.
My employer's internet system does not allow me to post comments on your site (how it made the "mistake" of letting me access it to read your post to begin with is a tiny miracle all its own!)...so feel free to post this as a comment on my behalf.
Your story is very similar to mine in terms of the aversion to things Christian with which I was brought up. The learned aversion was understandable given that my parents and most Jews their age in my home town were born in Europe before or during World War II and the almost successful attempt to eliminate all of us was at the hands of those who mostly were, at least in name, Christian.
But I, as you, have come full circle (and I believe America has evolved much more than other mostly Christian nations, especially where happy co-existence and acceptance of other peaceful faiths are concerned).
I now receive Christmas greetings in the spirit in which they are given. And return them with true smiles. I only wish that the Christmas spirit lasted longer (OK, maybe not the music...but the whole good will towards Man thing).
Shabbat Shalom and a Merry Christmas to all.
Bruce Wechsler (Baruch ben Yitzchak)
Great post. I'm reminded of something Ayn Rand used to say. Rand, despite being an avowed atheist, liked the expression "God bless you." She described it very much like you did above when talking about "Merry Christmas": expressing "energy, enthusiasm and good-will." If I'm not mistaken, she not only wrote about this but discussed it with Johnny Carson one night on TV.
I guess I need to get in line...
Beautiful words of wisdom, bruthah Yaakov!
I'm a very rare Jew out here in central FL, but I m happy to receive and return the many "Merry Chirstmases" in the spirit they are intended.
And like many US Jews, I have Christian relatives, just wonderful people. They send us Hanukkah gifts, we send them Christmas gifts. This is a big difference from our ancestors in "the old country."
[Ohmigod, and "It's a Wonderful Life" is just starting--if that isn't a sappy but essentially true portrayal of this blessed land we live in, between the 2 oceans...So because I'm Jewish I shdn't bawl my eyes out, too?! Oyyyyyy, if only Israel had a man with 1/10th the heart and imagination of the late great Frank Capra...]
But I digress...Thank you and Shabbat Shalom, Yaacov, and MERRY CHRISTMAS to all your Christian readers! AND GOD BLESS AMERICA!
Thank you, Yaacov for your love of freedom. And I tell you and each of the commentors above, that I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!
This post goes right to my favorites. Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends, and Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends. And my our God continue to bless our nation, America. Pray for our troops!
Well said, my dear Jewish friend! Merry Christmas to all!
There is no war on Xmas.
May G-d bless and keep everyone who reads this site because you are doing His work whenever you do. The real meaning of Christmas, to me, has always been the kindness shown by so many during this holiday season (despite the horrendous traffic and crowded malls and so forth and so on).
MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!
As I read your wonderful words, I felt the Grace of God brushing me softly.
You have reognized and embraced all the love, good will, and tolerance that is behind the simple greeting.
So, Merry Christmas to us all!
I fully agree, and have been following the same practice since I lived in Haifa and on Friday afternoons while shopping pre-shabbat, all of the Arabs that I encountered would wish me a Shabat Shalom.
a very merry christmas to all .g_d bless america and g_d save the uk
Beautiful and well written! It's nice to see recognition of the values and morals the USA was founded on and that "Merry Christmas" isn't meant to offend.
Happy New Year!
Enjoyed your posting. I've thought about the exact same things. I think that you might have made a common mistake however in saying that American political freedom derives from the Protestant tradition.
Didn't it derive from the fact that the various English Christian groups eventually got so sick of killing eachother that they decided to tolerate eachother instead.
That's not a religious value. It's a purely political one.
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