Merry Marinara!

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The fact that Hanukkah arrives so early this year (December 2) has given a bit of a breather from the cultural discordance of the Christmas/Hanukkah season. However, here and there, we find a few noteworthy items that hark to bigger issues.

In a Huffington Post parent advice column (November 29, 2018) penned by “author, speaker and dad” Doyin Richards, the following letter appears:

“My family is Jewish, and we recently moved from Massachusetts to Texas for my husband’s job. Last week, my 11-year-old son said “happy holidays!” to the mom who lives across the street. According to my son and my husband (who was present), she got visibly upset and replied, ‘Don’t say that to me! We celebrate Christmas here!’

My son is friends with her son and now feels uncomfortable hanging out with him when she’s around. My husband says we shouldn’t makes waves since we’re newbies in this conservative part of town. How should we handle this?”

Even though Richard’s response to this letter is well-reasoned and succinct, he apparently feels a need to identify himself as Christian in order to frame his answer. (Perhaps in today’s divisive times, this accords him a higher level of authority on the subject.) He begins with: “the only day it makes sense to wish someone a merry Christmas is on Dec. 25. After all, I’m not rolling up to people in October wishing them a happy Thanksgiving. Are you?“  Richards simply does not understand how or why the statement “happy holidays” has been conflated to a war on Christmas. He proffers the following (very apt) metaphor (which he had apparently used for explanation to his toddler daughters when they were young):

“Let’s say a restaurant serves up some amazing mozzarella sticks at a buffet. Previously, this restaurant only offered marinara sauce to dip them in, because it was the only sauce the majority of its patrons enjoyed. But after observing its customers for a while, this establishment noticed that some people wanted other options. So the owners did the wise thing and created a “sauce” section in the buffet that also included ranch dressing, honey mustard, pesto and some secret sauce that nobody is quite sure of. The bottom line: Customers are still be able to stuff their faces with marinara if they choose, it’s just that marinara will be included in a section with other sauces as well.”

Richards concludes that Happy Holidays is a greeting of inclusion because ”What guy boycotts a restaurant because he believes there’s a ‘war against marinara sauce’”?

Richards calls out the insistence upon wishing someone a Merry Christmas to be the height of selfishness, which “displays infantile levels of emotional maturity.” [One might draw parallels to the captains of the so-called war on Christmas.] He supports this by citing demographic data and a falling level of religious observance, which do not support the concept of a solely Christian America.

Richards then offers his advice: “You could have your kid take the easy way out here by telling him to greet this woman with “merry Christmas” going forward, but where’s the lesson in that? You’ve raised a kid to be inclusive. That should be celebrated, not ignored.”  He advises the woman to tell her son to continue to say “happy holidays” and, if someone reacts in a negative way to respond: “My goal is to cover everyone’s beliefs, including people who don’t celebrate Christmas, because they should get to enjoy the holiday season, too. I mean, Christmas is a part of those happy holidays I mentioned.”

Even though this may be a bit of a mouthful for a young teen to respond to an adult, the takeaway is clear. No one, adult or child, should have to conform to the ideas of those who are not inclusive. Richards concludes by contextualizing the so-called “war on Christmas”: “One last thing, because I feel a need to put this into perspective for a moment: Mothers and their babies are getting tear-gassed at our nation’s border, yet this woman is experiencing a blood pressure spike over a pleasant seasonal greeting by a polite 11-year-old? Really?! We have much bigger fish ― err, mozzarella sticks ― to fry these days. Happy holidays!”

Bravo!

For other insights on this subject, see A Kosher Christmas Blog posting “It’s That Time of Year Again” (October 23, 2017). And of course, the preeminent resources on American Jews and Christmas: A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish by Joshua Eli Plaut, Ph.D. (which is available on amazon.com at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=a+kosher+christmas).

 

 

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It’s That Time of Year Again!

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Here we go again! It’s not even Halloween and a gauntlet has been thrown down. The underpinning is the greeting “Merry Christmas.” A bit early for this, one might think.

The notion of a War on Christmas has therefore been politicized beyond all previous boundaries. In this particular year, the issue has gained national prominence bandied about during both the run-up to the presidential election of last year and now as a hallmark to a divisive political agenda. Poisoned rhetoric has distorted and amplified holiday greetings and decorations into acrimonious and divisive political statements. The all-inclusive phrase “Happy Holidays” has been transmuted into an insult to Christianity.

So, let’s take a look at this issue from an historical perspective.

For many years, debates centered on the what has been termed the “Christmas Wars” have taken place somewhat obscurely on socially, politically and religiously conservative talk radio and cable programs. Regardless of which strategies Jews in America have employed to face Christmas, most Americans remained largely unaware of the internal December debates taking place within Jewish communities throughout the United States. However, the cumulative effect of questioning the role of Christmas in America by Jews for over one hundred years increasingly helped the population at large to understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas. As minority groups immigrated in increasingly larger numbers to the United States and brought with them various religious traditions, Americans in leadership positions within local municipalities, school districts and public schools became more sensitive to those who felt excluded from Christmas festivities. Municipalities and public schools, in becoming more aware of diversity, neutralized the holiday celebration so as not to offend Americans with differing religious traditions. By the early twenty-first century, instead of wishing one another a “Merry Christmas,” for example, Americans began to wish each other “Happy Holidays.” School programs and concerts began to be referred to as winter celebrations rather than Christmas festivals.  Office parties took on the moniker of holiday party rather than Christmas party.

By the second decade of the twenty-first century, despite vocal assertions by certain conservative religious and political groups that America should be considered a Christian nation, most American citizens had come to accept the reality that Christmas was not the only December holiday that should be accorded national recognition. With this realization came an acknowledgment that certain accommodations would have to be made to allow other religious symbols to join those of Christmas in the public domain, particularly when those symbols also reinforced American values. Seventy-five years ago, it was songwriter Irving Berlin who taught the American people, through the ever popular song White Christmas, that the country’s goal in celebrating Christmas was not to practice religion but to employ its symbols to promote American ideals of home, family, freedom, and patriotism. Certainly, both Christmas and Hanukah now accomplish this goal for many Americans.

As Michael Che succinctly rejoined on the “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live (aired on October 14, 2017): “When we say ‘Happy Holidays’ we’re not attacking Christmas, we’re saying ‘All Holidays Matter.’ ”

Happy Holidays!