My husband John and I ran into an observant Jewish acquaintance one Christmas Eve. John greeted the man with a hearty, “Merry Christmas!” He smiled, shook my husband’s hand, and answered, “Merry Christmas.” At that moment, the realization of our friend’s Jewishness smacked John on the brain and knocked something loose.
“Oh, uh, holiday. I mean happy holiday. Hanukkah. Happy Hanukkah. Do you celebrate Hanukkah? I mean, you’re Jewi-, um . . . Holidays. Happy Holidays. Hanukkah holidays. . .” It was just painful.
There’s a difference, however, between a fumble and a snub. John was trying to be friendly. He didn’t mean any insult, and none was taken. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for myself. On a different occasion, a mail carrier hand-delivered a periodical to my door. The numbers on the address had been reversed, but the guy recognized my name, and took the time to bring my magazine personally. A friendly gesture, right? But then he did it: he called me honey.
I grew up the daughter of feminists in the heyday of the Women’s Rights Movement. When he said “honey,” I heard oppression! Instead of the thankfulness (and maybe a tip) he deserved, I gave him a curt answer and a glare. I called him sweetheart, with enough attitude to make my point. Later, to my shame, it dawned on me how unkind and unfair I behaved. What in the world was I thinking?
Which brings me back to the holidays. When some Christians hear Happy Holiday instead of Merry Christmas, they hear oppression. And they get rude. They say Christmas with enough attitude to make their point. Instead of answering the spirit of a friendly greeting, as our wise Jewish friend did, they get hung up on that one word that most likely means something different to the hearer than to the speaker.
If you feel you must answer Happy Holiday with Merry Christmas, go ahead. But be nice. Answer a friendly greeting in kind, and with kindness. When all is said and done, isn’t The Reason for the Season all about love?
How do you answer holiday greetings that may not reflect your personal faith?