Eight Crazy Posts! (#6)

I was raised as a Reform (liberal) Jew. Although I am originally from the Chicago area, my family did not live “up on the North Shore”, where the heaviest concentration of Jews in this area is. We lived in the south suburbs, and although we belonged to a thriving temple, I was the only Jewish girl in my public school. I don’t recall being particularly open about my religion as a kid; I didn’t necessarily hide it but I also typically didn’t call attention to it. My parents didn’t start me on Hebrew school in 3rd grade as was typical (for Bat Mitzvah training) and, a couple of moves later (to Texas and then Tennessee), we quit temple entirely. I went through a religious dryspell that lasted until 1995, when Jim and I joined our current temple after deciding that we had better get serious if we wanted our boys, then three and less than a year old, to have any sort of religious foundation.

In 1997 I was in my second year of teaching second grade religious school and I had many terrific students when evaluated in the usual ways, but I had one who really struck a chord in me. Her name was Adrienne and she was the proudest little Jewish girl I had ever met. She was very knowledgeable of our religion for her age, and as I recall had even named her pet bird Hatikvah, which means “hope” in Hebrew. I was blown away in most of my conversations with her and was so excited to see a little girl actually *flaunt* her religion, something I hadn’t been brave enough to do when I was her age. I wanted that for my kids: the ability to be comfortable enough in their own skin and with their religion to not have any qualms about letting the world know it: not to convert others (that’s not what we’re about!) but just to project that self-confidence.

During that year the older boy was about four years old and in the Jewish preschool. One day during December we were shopping at Target. At the checkout, the cashier handed me my receipt, smiled, and sang out “Merry Christmas!” Before I could say “You too!” which is what I always say because 1) it’s easy and 2) I’m just returning the sentiment to someone nice enough to wish me merriment, the older boy (remember, at four years old) exclaimed in a gruff voice, “We don’t CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. We celebrate HANUKKAH.”

I tried to smile at the cashier through my slight embarrassment at my boy’s sudden lack of manners towards strangers as she took a step back, slightly alarmed at this little guy’s outburst.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” She said. “Then I will wish you a Happy Hanukkah!”

“Thank you!” he smiled, all satisfied with himself.

When we got to the car, I talked to him about the niceties of December, and how as Jews, we are in the minority, and that people are just trying to be nice and how are they supposed to know that we don’t celebrate Christmas when most of the people in the world DO celebrate it…it was a good conversation and that little outburst never happened again. (But I had what I wanted: a kid full of pride about his religion! Yay! And now I have two. Life is good.)

Which is a good transition to the topic of today’s post. What greeting do you wish someone who celebrates different holidays? If you celebrate Christmas gifts, do you give Christmas gifts to your non-Christian friends, or what?

I don’t have a documented source (though I searched and searched, believe me!), but think about this and see if it makes sense. I saw a segment about this years ago (probably on the Today Show, because I’m addicted to it) when they were talking about holiday etiquette.

If you don’t know what people celebrate and you are concerned about it (if you’re a cashier, for example), it’s best to say “Happy Holidays”, which is just about all-encompassing. If you know that a person celebrates something in particular, then it’s okay to be specific; and it would be inappropriate (but not *mean*, just inappropriate) to knowingly wish me a Merry Christmas if you know that I am Jewish.

On the other side of it, if someone wishes you a “Happy Insert-holiday-you-don’t-celebrate-here!”, then as the recipient of those misguided wishes, you have a couple of options.

1. Do what I do: just say thanks and even “You too!”. They mean well and neither of you have the time for you to explain that you don’t celebrate that.

2. Nicely say, “Oh, I celebrate Whatever…but Happy Blah-blah to YOU!”

3. Ignore them. But would you really do that? That’s not very nice.

What about gift-giving? On that etiquette segment, the expert said that you should give the gift during the holiday that the recipient celebrates. For example, I (obviously) celebrate Hanukkah but Kate celebrates Christmas. I give her a gift at Christmas and she gives me a gift at Hanukkah (whenever it happens to occur that year: that’s tomorrow’s post!). It’s an issue of respecting the other person and their religion. That said, I totally DO NOT get annoyed/bothered/upset if someone gives me a gift at Christmas. Life’s too short to get ticked about something like that, don’t you think? Frankly, I’m always just feeling all blessed that someone is thinking of me: it’s the thought that counts, remember?

I think if everyone could get through December remembering that just about everybody has good intentions, this world would be a nicer place.



  • Lilacspecs

    I typically just respond with “Thank you and Happy Holidays to you too” if anyone wishes me something other than what I celebrate.
    My friends in highschool and sometimes college used to buy Christmas cards for everyone and then with mine they’d scratch out Christmas and write Hanukkah. I was never sure if I should be happy cause they bothered to alter mine or annoyed that they didn’t bother finding a hanukkah card.
    But now I live in Belgium and they only know what Hanukkah is in Antwerp and Brussels. I don’t live in either so I take whatever seasons greetings I get.

  • melissa

    i always just wish people a happy and healthy holiday season. it’s easier. it keeps it politically correct. i avoid any sort of confrontation…which i am NOT good at…

  • Melissa

    I’m a happy holidays or season’s greetings kind of person. But only in the past few years as I’ve become more aware that Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated at this time of year.

    As for gifts, we give out Christmas gifts to those who celebrate Christmas…and since your the only Jewish person I know (besides your sister and I don’t have her address) I sent you Hanukkah cards…but you know that already! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Well being of the Anglican faith (now), I get to be part of the majority. And I kinda don’t like the happy holidays — particularly coming from stores that are COMPLETELY decked out in Christmas. Call a spade a spade and all… But I wish people what they celebrate, and if I don’t know… hmm I think I might still say Merry Christmas? Or Happy New Year — like all my cards this year since I’m about to start writing the annual Christmas letter that will actually be a New Years letter since I have yet to write a single card. If any of that makes sense.

  • Mrs4444

    I agree, but I suppose (as a Catholic) that it would be really weird to me if a cashier (who was Jewish) said, “Happy Hanukkah” to me 🙂 But that’s because I live in a pretty milky-white, CAthlolic area and did not know anyone who wasn’t Catholic until we moved to NY years ago. Diversity is wonderful, and I miss it now that we are back home.

    Your post reminds me of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume. Have you ever read it?

  • Melisa

    Lilacspecs: Yep. I get cards with “Christmas” scratched out every year and I just choose to think, “wow, that was nice that they remembered I’m Jewish”.

    melissa #1: I think that’s probably because you’re Jewish too: it’s easier to say Happy Holidays in many ways. I do the same. It’s sort of like how I try to be very careful of how other people spell their names, because I have an unusual spelling of Melissa/Melisa.

    Melissa #2: And you’re very good at purchasing Hanukkah cards, I can say that: four times over! LOL

    Michelle: But just because stores are all decked out in Christmas, that doesn’t mean there are only Christians working there…I know what you’re saying though. It can be frustrating these days to try and “please everybody”, which is why I really don’t make an issue out of when someone wishes me good things on a holiday I don’t celebrate. Smiling back works well. LOL And I think that this whole “controversy”–not that it IS a controversy, but it’s the only word I came up with–is the reason why my second cousin ONLY sends out New Year’s cards. Because everybody recognizes that there is a yearly turning over of the calendar. 🙂

    Mrs4444: I LOOOOOVED that book. I read it so many times that not only were the pages and cover worn, bent, and in some places ripped, but I actually tried her mantra “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.” Ha ha

  • Mike

    What a great topic. I really hadn’t thought about too much because I don’t have too many Jewish friends. Those that I do have are like you and just aknowledge the greetings and know that it comes from a good place.

  • Dea

    As a non-religious person who celebrates the secular of holidays, I don’t feel the more emotional tug of these things. I try to be sensitive to others’ feelings, though, so I stick with the Happy Holidays, and if I slip, and say Merry Christmas, I say, oh, if that’s what you celebrate….sorry! 🙂

    I also tend to give people very “winter” themed gifts – baked goods, snowflake mugs, etc, if I don’t know their religious leanings….so that I won’t insult. So then they get some nice cookies that aren’t Santas, etc, in a pretty snowflake mug or tin – and it’s just a nice gesture, not necessarily a specific holiday gift.

    I also try not to be insulted, as well. Since I am not religious, I try not to get so annoyed by the banners everywhere that extol people about the reason for the season – everyone has their own, and it’s not their job to tell ME mine, but I try not to get insulted by THAT, either, you know?

    But here’s the thing – we can’t be 100% sensitive to 100% of the people 100% of the time, because 1, we’re human, and 2, we’re aa large population of varied and mixed people. It’s what makes us wonderful – and horrible – all at once.

  • Kim M.

    Well done. I have no problems with Happy Holidays. I have a problem with people who are against me not being “Merry Christmas” all the time Live and let live!

  • The Microblogologist

    The cards I sent for 2008 had Xmas on them, I wanted to send my doctor (Jewish) one but the “controversy” stopped me (that and is it normal/appropriate to send ones doctor a card?). Wasn’t sure if crossing off the Xmas would have been the way to go or if it would have possibly offended him. I wish they had a more PC option on them but they were the perfect card for me to send! But of course the PC version would piss people off too, like my dad who doesn’t really believe in celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday (we are Christians) but gets annoyed by the “happy holidays” and “xmas” and secular traditions, no wonder I’m so warped!

    We celebrate 12/25 but it is basically us having a nice dinner at home as a family (though 2008 they went to dinner with their church) and exchange a few presents, no tree, no santa, and no nativity. Oh and your family probably celebrates Easter as much as mine does (we celebrate by buying the candy on clearance the next day…). And so lacking my own I totally am living vicariously through your tradition/holiday posts, thanks =)!