Consider season’s greetings. For many, these are unselfconscious gestures. But for others, they are loaded with significance. While we can together celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah after Thanksgiving, along with the new New Year, showing respect for each other, some prefer to exclude. There are the combatants against “the war on Christmas,” fighting valiantly on Fox News.
Indeed, this is the time of year that I often feel like an outsider in my own country. It has felt this way my whole life, though it was much harder as a child. I heard, and learned by osmosis, the Christmas songs, from “White Christmas” to “Silent Night,” and like all American kids, I was charmed. I was trained by the mass media to be sentimental about the holiday season and the Christmas spirit. I was intrigued by Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But I also knew that this all was not for me, not for Jews, not who I am.
When I was a kid, in a town that was 30% Jewish, 60% Catholic, 10% “other,” I did experience anti-Semitism of an everyday sort, accused of killing Christ by Catholic kids at the bus stop, having a hard time on my little league team with two particularly aggressive teammates.
There was not much socializing between the Jewish and the Catholic kids, there was a Jewish and a Catholic side of town. It was mostly not a matter of antagonism, more about knowing one’s place. Any gesture toward Christmas celebration on my part meant, somehow, not standing up for myself. I was taught by my parents to question Jews who had a Christmas tree, to think that such assimilation was a form of self hatred.
Yet, I knew then, as I know now, that this is an overwhelmingly Christian country and I am one of the outsiders. It is at this time of year that we, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists, feel disconnected from the mainstream. But when someone says Happy Holidays, as opposed to Merry Christmas, I do feel more at home.
It’s an act of civility. What cable TV talking heads call the “War on Christmas,” I know as acts of generosity and openness.
The proclamation of a war on Christmas, it is clear to me, is roughly equivalent to the cry for equal rights for whites.