I saw a recent TV commercial advising it’s “OK to say Merry Christmas.” My reaction: I never really thought it wasn’t OK.
Being Jewish from a strong Russian-Jewish immigrant family, this may seem odd to some friends, neighbors and co-workers. Perhaps my family was different. I just never thought that.
My family, all of my grandparents and my parents were merchants. Though the American version of Christmas was and is geared to merchants of products, my grandparents and parents loved the holidays because of the goodness in humanity that seemed to flourish then. My grandfathers and their descendants certainly gave plenty of assistance throughout the community, but they also worked long, hard hours in their businesses. And when there were profits, they shared the success.
For the holidays, I remember my mother in particular. She very carefully planned the commercial gift-wrapping (free, I might add) in my parents’ men’s clothing store. She bought ribbons, boxes, gift-wrap paper and tape and organized her gift-wrap crew to be sure customers were promptly served. She dreamed up different ways to make bows and use recycled Christmas cards on the front of many packages; this was long before gift sacks.
She even purchased spray cans of “artificial snow” to spray packages, giving the illusion of a snowy holiday even when Christmas in Texas routinely featured swimsuit temperatures. And she made a mean eggnog to share with her gift-wrap customers, along with her famous smile. And I never once recall being told, “Don’t say Merry Christmas.”
Of course, if we knew the customer was of the Jewish faith, “Happy Chanukah” was the greeting. Good cheer was the order of the day. It made sense then and it makes sense now.
Perhaps “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are now often used because of those slogans’ efficiency, time savings and all-inclusive message. I don’t see a problem in that. Some might also say these slogans are “politically correct,” but I never thought politics should have anything to do with the holidays or various ways in which humanity celebrates its religious beliefs.
Sure, some who celebrate Chanukah or Kwanzaa might be offended if wished “Merry Christmas.” But if the greeting is offered in good faith with good intent, I can’t see how it’s offensive. Certainly an attempt to be offensive with “Merry Christmas” defeats the whole purpose of the season.
When a person of the Jewish faith offers “Merry Christmas” to a friend and receives a response of “Happy Chanukah” in return, there can be nothing but good will and friendship. I suspect those who celebrate Kwanzaa feel the same. In the same way, however, a singular greeting of “Merry Christmas” shouldn’t be offensive if offered in good spirit.
Ultimately, it would seem that in this wonderful holiday season, offering mankind’s hope of peace and good will shouldn’t be transfigured by those seeking to “take back” the season or inject discrimination into this time of year or any time of year. The rich fabric of our American tapestry is woven from diversity. This has made us stronger as a nation and worked to make America the unrivaled world leader in democracy, liberty and justice. The differences we see around us come from our ancestors, who were all immigrants, bringing with them a potpourri of beliefs, customs and traditions.
Lest we forget, this is what makes Americans who we are.
I believe it’s the hope of most Americans that the goodness evident this time of year will continue every day, week and month of 2017. Let’s hope the lights of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and all other traditions of good, right and humanity shine far beyond the confines of their calendars and outshine the evil tenets of discrimination, hatred and bigotry. May we wrap our loving gifts to friends, family and neighbors with the same love my mother had with her special gift wraps, eggnog treats and warm, wonderful smile.
Yes, it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Chanukah” and “Joyous Kwanzaa.”
Longtime civic leader Harry Harelik is executive director of the McLennan Community College Foundation. His family operated Harlik’s Fine Clothes in downtown Waco.