My Jewish perspective on the “War on Christmas”

Whoever would have thought that manger scenes and mall Santas could become a topic of contention in America? That saying “Merry Christmas” is becoming taboo in some circles?

Wow.

I spent the first decade and a half of my life in America. Most of my neighbors were Christian, not Jewish. They put up Christmas lights on their houses and had Christmas trees. Some of them even went to midnight mass on Christmas eve. The stores were full of Christmas music and decorations and so were the streets.

They were pretty.

I never imagined it would be necessary to discuss this. It seems so bizarre but as this has become such an issue I, as a Jew, would like to say to Christians everywhere:

For God’s sake, just say: “Merry Christmas.”

Your holiday doesn’t threaten my identity. If this time of the year makes you feel more Christian that’s great. You being more Christian doesn’t make me feel less Jewish.

It would be nice if you could remember that I also have a holiday at this time of year. It’s called Hanukah (and has nothing to do with Jesus). For those that don’t know, one wishes Jews a “Happy Hanukah.”

To Christians who wish me a “Merry Christmas” I always answer: “Thank you. My holiday is called Hanukah but thank you.” The PC police might see wishing someone the wrong holiday wishes as inappropriate, racist and an attempt to subjugate a minority to the majority culture. I see it as a well-intentioned mistake. Really, it’s not a big deal.

If you can’t remember that I have a holiday and that it’s different from yours, you know what? That doesn’t really matter to me. I don’t need your recognition in order to know who I am. It would be nice but it’s not necessary. What you do doesn’t change my identity, my history, my rituals or traditions. I will remain me and you can remain you.

If anything, as a Jewish person, what I’d like to ask of Christians everywhere is to use this time of year to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Do you remember what it is you are supposed to be celebrating? It has nothing to do with presents or lights or food.

Who gets the best stuff has nothing to do with the promise that everyone, no matter what they have done in life, can find redemption. Having enormous family meals often has very little to do with love or gratitude.

As a Jew, I’d like to ask Christians everywhere not to focus on what Jews or Muslims or Sikhs or Buddhists or whoever think of your holiday. Instead focus on what you are doing with your holiday. What are you teaching your children about Christmas?

If you are teaching them to be more Christ-like, that’s the best thing I could ask for. The ideas of hope, loving your fellow man, having compassion for others etc. are eternal. I don’t have to believe in your Savior to recognize that those are good things to teach. I don’t have to be Christian to hope that you will teach your children to be Christ-like or to believe that we’d all be better off if you did so.

I would like to point out that there is a real War on Christmas and it has nothing to do with Starbucks deciding to print “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” on their cups. Or if the cup is red or green.

The real war on Christmas is happening in the Middle East, in Africa and in China. It is a war on Christians who have pledged to follow in the footsteps of the Nazarene: Jesus of Nazareth (whose Hebrew name was Yehoshua or in English, Joshua). It is a matter of life and death, not a matter of holiday decorations.

red-mark-of-the-nazarene-on-christian-home-in-iraq
Red mark of the Nazarene on a Christian home in Iraq. I’m told the black text reads: “Property of the Islamic State, again with the mark of the Nazarene” (which is the justification for confiscating the house).

The war is against Christians who are being marked for death because they have refused to submit to the Islamic State. It is people who are beaten up, ostracized, considered “less than,” arrested in the dead of night, blown up in their churches and sometimes even crucified for their faith.

These things are not happening in the Middle Ages, it’s not a thing of the past, they are happening here and now, in a number of places around the world.

But who cares about the Christians of Iraq or Syria or Africa or China when Starbucks makes an issue out of printing the words: “Merry Christmas”?

Maybe you’ve lost your job or are sick. Maybe you think that Trump is scary. Everyone has something that is bothering them in their life. To my Jewish way of thinking it seems that Christmas season should be a time for Christians to look beyond the issues in their own lives.

I would hope that you use this holiday to bring joy to others, to people in your own community less fortunate than you. Buy presents for the kids in the poor family. Invite a lonely veteran to have Christmas dinner with your family. There are countless small ways you can make a big difference… If you do nothing to help others, at least be grateful for what you have. Your “War on Christmas” is ridiculous compared to the real war, the war on Christians. Scary is when your neighbors rise up against you, to kill you. Scary is heads on pikes in the street, executions in the town square. Everything else is child’s play, the complaints of the overly satiated.

For God’s sake, just say: “Merry Christmas” and be happy that you have the freedom to do so. Anyone who has a problem with your choice of words is free to go curl up in a corner a cry if they like.

I choose to wish my Christian friends a very Merry Christmas!

I’ll be busy here in Israel, reveling in the miracles of Hanukah. As a child, I was taught about Hanukah, “a great miracle happened there.” Now I live in the place where one says: “a great miracle happened here.”  This is MY legacy and that’s what I’m going to focus on.

I certainly won’t be thinking about the people who said “Happy holidays” vs “Happy Hanukah” vs “Merry Christmas.”

That’s the beauty of freedom.

Thank God, we are still free enough to choose what to focus on, to choose our own reactions. There are people elsewhere who don’t have that luxury.


11 thoughts on “My Jewish perspective on the “War on Christmas”

  1. Happy Hanukkah! I am a Christian and of all the Christians i know – 100s of them, friends, family and in various parts of the US, various denominations etc…not a single one of them (NOT ONE!) was offended by the starbucks cup! yet, i literally saw 100s of people mocking christians over the ‘supposed’ outrage of the christmas cups. after a few weeks of this last year, i researched to find the source of the outrage…it seemed to be one self-proclaimed christian pastor – who had very few followers (on FB anyway). and yet, here we are, a year later and non-christians are still bringing up, mocking, and belittling christians for their *outrage* over last years starbucks cups. i am not saying there is a war on christians, but you *might* consider the possibility that those christians that do think so, are probably not speaking about the starbucks cups. i realize this was only a small part of your blogpost – and i do appreciate your post…so well stated, despite this insistence that CHRISTIANS (as an entire people) are outraged over starbucks cups. and i did still get your point, but it was despite this non-issue that non-christians insist christians see as such a travesty. anyway – Happy Hanukkah and i wish you many blessings in the coming year.

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    1. Merry Christmas Toni!
      I think you understood that the cups were just an example.
      I could have listed some of the cases of public demonstrations against manger scenes in the town square, crosses in public places or uproar about what kids do re Christmas in school… there are sadly too many examples of war on Christianity with Christmas being an excuse.
      All these issues are serious because society tends to slip in to dark times incrementally rather than by big sweeping revolutions.
      My point was, which I think you also understood, that although these issues should be taken seriously there is a real war – with bombs, guns, knives and swords against Christians happening NOW.
      Sadly, I see almost no action from the Christians in America or Europe in defense (or at least in protest!) of the persecution of their brothers and sisters elsewhere. If the Christian community doesn’t actually do anything to help, I would hope that at least they realize how easy they have it, understand what real problems are…
      Gratitude is an important state of mind too. Saving lives is better but appreciating what one has, going out to give to someone else, even in a small way, can make a difference.
      Blessings to you and yours from the Holy Land!

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  2. “Everything else is child’s play, the complaints of the overly satiated.”

    These words halted my angry text message complaining of anothers bigotry and arrogance towards outcasts. I can pray. I can be humble. I will be thankful.

    Thank you!!

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    1. What a wonderful comment! Thank you for taking the time to write it. Do you realize how rare a person you are? So few are willing to listen, to check till the end before finalizing their opinion. Good for you! It is small actions of kindness, thoughtfulness and most of all listening that makes the difference.
      I hope that you will take this one step further and maybe share these thoughts with someone close to you who you think might listen as well, your family, your community…
      Merry Christmas and blessings from Israel!

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  3. When i was in Scouting as a youth our camp had a tradition, each Pack took their turn at one of the three meals to say grace, the only requirement is to quietly honor the traditions of the youth who was praying. The week our Pack had (always the same week in the year) there were Catholics, Protestants, one Jewish Pack, and myself (the only Eastern Christian). Everyone stood quietly, heads bowed, while the boy prayed to God. To me, that was religious tolerance. These days prayers have to be worded in such as way as to not offend anyone. I see that as teaching intolerance, saying that no ones religion is important enough to honor. When / how did we get that way?

    I grew up in an area that had a large Jewish population, and except for the Hasidic Jews it wasn’t always possible to say if a person you met on the sidewalk was Christian or Jew. During these days we would wish them a Merry Christmas, they would wish us a Happy Hanukah, and we would each go along our business. The only confusion seemed to be whether it was Hanukah or Chanukah?

    Political Correctness rings more of Political than correct.

    Happy Hanukah, dear friend.

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  4. Have shared Hanukah falls on Christmas Eve when many Christians attend Midnight Mass. I know in Israel Christians are free to celebrate their mass 24/12 and The Menorah’s are lit all over Israel what could be more beautiful. Both bring light into the world in different ways. Shalom Viv

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    1. Christians in Israel have freedom of religion. I was actually referring to the USA, Christmas in Israel is different and has an unfortunate (and often unpleasant) political nature but that is a different story.

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