By: Howard Melamed
I think it is time that political correctness needs to yield to common sense and being polite. No one should fear or get upset about being wished Merry Christmas.
Happy Holidays, on the other hand, seems to indicate something that the government would tell me. What does Happy Holiday mean anyway? Nothing. It is the same sort of message that you get when you are waiting on the phone for a customer service representative, and you are told, “please stay on the line….we appreciate your business.” They don’t appreciate our business, and I don’t appreciate anything generically said to be politically correct.
Maybe somebody should say Merry Holidays or something. Or maybe a person that does not believe in religion to start with would do justice by saying nothing. Maybe they should say Happy Holiday on government or bank holidays, and leave alone those people that believe in Christmas to say whatever they want to say.
Even though I am Jewish, I celebrate any holiday that preaches the message of peace and goodwill: Christmas included. I often tell my Christian friends that there is no need to wish me a happy Hanukah when talking about Christmas. My reasoning is that Christmas is the number one religious holiday for Christians, and I recognize that. Hanukkah is an eight on a scale of one to ten. I feel it does Christmas an injustice when after I say Merry Christmas, I hear the response: Happy Hanukah. Wishing me Happy Hanukah translates into wishing me a “Happy Festival of Candles.” However, Christians wishing me a Merry Christmas means you are wishing me peace and goodwill; they give me their very best wishes. Which one would you want? Happy candles or peace on earth, goodwill towards men?
There is no insult in wishing people of other religions Merry Christmas. Those that object are probably miserable anyway and could use some “Christmas Spirit.” Those that are adamant that you are casting some spell on them…well…forgive them. They are obviously too stupid to think about anything else in any other terms.
Perhaps I think this way because throughout my elementary and high schooling in Montreal, I attended the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. From Kindergarten through High School, I was embraced in Christian practice, as were my fellow students who were mostly Jews. You see, Montreal schools were ( and still are) run by either the Catholic or Protestant Churches. The French Canadians, who were mostly Catholic of course attended the Catholic schools and the English Canadians, who were mostly Protestant, attended the Protestant School board of Greater Montreal.
For Jews, well, we were not allowed in the Catholic Churches, and speaking mostly English. we were allowed to attend the Protestant schools. It was quite interesting because in my area of the city, the Protestant school was 99 percent Jewish. Yet, even so, we were taught in the same way as Christians, reading from the New Testament every morning and singing the hymns aloud, including Onward Christian Soldiers. In our non-secular environment, growing up Jewish and going to a Protestant school was a way of life. It would seem to most here in the United States as an impossibility. But to most here in the United States, Montreal is thought of as being near Spain. (a reference to Geography not being the most popular topic in school here)
The fact is, I found absolutely no conflict between my learning about Christianity and my being Jewish. Attending school was a school thing, and back at the house, well, that is where religion is really practiced. In my family, it was no different.
Growing up and going to school in a Christian environment gave me a complete understanding of the need to be tolerant and respect other people’s views. Christianity was not my religion but rather something that was taught to me in school. There was no threat in learning about someone else’s religion. Not one Jew that I knew was ever converted, and no one ever forced me to think in the way I think.
Throughout elementary and high school, Christmas was celebrated by everyone in the spirit of what Christmas has to offer. Presents were exchanged, and if we were lucky enough as Jews to have Christmas correspond to Hanukah, then it was even more special. I exchanged Hanukah gifts from my Jewish friends and Christmas gifts from my Christian friends. How truly blessed we all were growing up in such an environment! Every Christmas in school, the Christmas play was performed by Jews, and I am quite certain that I played the baby Jesus a few times from Kindergarten to grade two. Come to think of it, having a Jew play the baby Jesus was perhaps the most authentic way of presenting Christmas since Jesus was a Jew.
While I attended McGill University in Montreal, most of the students were Christians. I never felt out of place or afraid. Christmas was a time of joy. I can remember doing the Christmas caroling with some of the other Jewish students who attended the local Protestant schools. This was fun, and it was a thrill for my Christian friends to hear. I still know how to sing in Latin. In Montreal, there was no need to dream about a White Christmas. It was always there every December 25th, snow and all.
There was never any problem with religion in school, and I often find it both amusing and disgusting that prayer in school in the United States has become a big issue. I think those who oppose it should talk to me since I am an expert and can testify that there is no threat. I embrace the spirit of prayer in school, and of course, I do not feel threatened by it. It is the very upbringing in the sea of Christianity that has enhanced my Jewish spirit. I have a strong belief in my religion without the need to discount or belittling anyone else’s right to believe as they want to believe. I am not alone in this. There are several thousand Jews who were brought up the same way as I was and who attended the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal..and are still Jewish!
So to you and your family, I wish you a healthy and happy Christmas, as well as a healthy and Happy New Year. It sincerely does come from my heart. And, as I light Hanukah candles, please feel free to wish me a very Merry Christmas as well. Oh, by the way, don’t stop singing Christmas carols. Maybe I will even join you in a couple of Latin ones I still remember….Let me see….
“Adeste fideles laeti triumphantes. Venite, venite in Bethlehem. Natum videte Regem angelorum……..”
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