These days it seems like all the news is how divided our country is. Here in Milwaukee, we are in the city which has been designated as the most racially segregated city in the United States. In a culture where tragedies happen because people are afraid of those who are different from themselves, we need to focus on how we can be inclusive. Let’s work on finding ways to bridge the gap between us. This holiday season, let’s take a step in the right direction. Let’s say, “Happy Holidays!”
“Happy Hanukkah!” Do people say that to you all the time in December? If they did, what would you say? “Thanks?” “We don’t celebrate it?” How would you feel? Would you be wondering why they assumed you celebrate Hanukkah? Maybe you’re wondering, “Do I look Jewish?” It’s all very confusing. Welcome to our world for a second. We are Jews in a society that overwhelmingly assumes we celebrate Christmas. For us, that assumption can be confusing and frustrating.
December in Christmas Country
December can be a frustrating time for non-Christians. Christmas decorations abound, cities plan city Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, Christmas music takes over the radio and stores, it goes on and on. Meanwhile, last year I went to a Target looking for some Hanukkah decorations and there were NONE. I was thinking, oh maybe I’m not seeing them, I’ll ask a clerk. Nope, the clerk confirmed, we don’t carry those. What?! What century are we living in?! (I found out later that they only carry them at stores where they believe more Jewish people live. Did I mention segregation?) We have a long way to go on equality, inclusivity, acceptance, all of the above! But let’s just start with a really simple change, let’s say: “Happy Holidays!”
During the holiday time, there’s a really easy way to be inclusive. You can say “Happy Holidays.” I’m not trying to take away anyone’s Christmas tree or Santa. But I am suggesting the thought that not everyone celebrates Christmas. My family is Jewish, and I can’t tell you how many times over the years people have said to us, “Merry Christmas!” The good intent is there. I do believe that they mean to wish us a very happy holiday. But the assumption is that we celebrate the same holiday they do. That is to assume that everyone is Christian. Without even knowing it, they took the wind out of our sail. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re at Church, or with friends or family who you know celebrate Christmas, go for it, say “Merry Christmas!” Alternatively, when you’re unsure, play it safe and go with “Happy Holidays!” The holiday spirit is maintained, the well wishes are communicated, and nobody will inadvertently feel marginalized. Now that makes for a happy holiday!
Disclaimer: my family is Jewish and besides our own holidays and Christmas, I don’t really know much about the holidays that other cultures celebrate. We all have a lot to learn!