Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's the Most Offensive Time of the Year

Imagine, for a moment, that you are wandering down the streets of India during the annual Hindu celebration of Diwali. In a spirit of good will and neighborliness, someone says to you, "Diwali Greetings!" or "Best wishes to you on Diwali!" What would you say in response?

Would you say, "I don't celebrate Diwali."? Of course you wouldn't, because you are a decent, polite person. You would probably say "Thank you!" You might even add, "You, too!", because that's what decent people do - they respond to pleasantries with pleasantries. Decent people do not take offense at the well-wishes of strangers, regardless of religious differences.

I guess this is why I felt a little annoyed when I read an advice-column question from a Jewish woman looking for help on how to respond to the constant barrage of Christmas cheer. "I'm tired of people wishing me a Merry Christmas," she wrote. "How should Jews respond...?"

A rabbi answered:

"My advice is to be polite, but persistent, in telling people that you do not celebrate Christmas. When Jews and other non-Christians acquiesce to "Merry Christmas" greetings with responses like, "You, too," or just nervous smiles, we only perpetuate the idea that Christmas is for everyone... What do you say when well-wishers wish you a 'merry Christmas'? My answer is, 'Thank you, but I don't celebrate Christmas. Let me wish you the best on your holiday.'"

My question is, why do we feel it necessary to explain our holiday observances to a grocery store cashier or a Salvation Army volunteer who is simply hoping to collect coins for the homeless? If you have a friendship with someone, by all means, tell them you don't celebrate Christmas. But a random person who is doing nothing more than offering a friendly greeting? For heaven's sake, just say, "Thank you!" and continue on your way! It isn't "perpetuating the idea that Christmas is for everyone". It's perpetuating the idea that politeness is for everyone.

And another thing; for the sake of consistency, let's pretend we are back in India during the celebration of Diwali. If, as an American Christian, you saw holiday displays in the Town Square commemorating the Festival of Lights, would you be offended? Of course not! Hinduism is a majority religion in India! Wouldn't you find it odd if all religious expression had been stifled out of the public square?

Likewise, why is it such a big deal to have a Nativity Scene on government property? According to one poll, 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas (even though only about 80% of those interviewed identified themselves as Christians). A Nativity Scene on government property is not an endorsement of Christianity - it's a recognition of the fact that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas. If 90% of Americans celebrated National Gum Drop Day (It's January 15th!), wouldn't it be logical for gum drop houses to appear on government lawns?

When I was working at an engineering firm a few years back, a handful of my coworkers were practicing Muslims. Every year, with a big grin and well-wishes for everyone, one of these Muslim coworkers would bring in a huge cake to mark the end of Ramadan.

Did I say, "Thank you, but I don't observe Ramadan."? No way! I said, "Thank you so much! Pass the cake!"

And every year, this Muslim coworker was right there enjoying himself at the office Christmas party.

So, to this Jewish woman who was looking for advice, I would say, stop getting miffed when someone wishes you "Merry Christmas" and start appreciating politeness.

After all, it's just a piece of cake.


Stephanie Black said...

Well said, Bonnie! It's a waste of time and happiness to spend your life looking for ways to be offended.

MyDonkeySix said...

Amen sister! People try too hard to get offended these days. Just see it as someone wishing you well and get on with it. Plus, who doesn't like cake?

Megan B ♥ said...

Yes, well said, indeed.

One of my very dearest friends is Jewish. We wish each other Happy Chanuka and Merry Christmas all the time, in respect and love for one another. It just doesn't have to be such a big deal. "Have a good day" should be just as offensive, I think.