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.