In our first year blogging, I wrote a piece on why I, as Jew, wish people a Merry Christmas. Then, as now, I felt it absurd that people try to strip this season of his sacred significance to Christians who celebrate today the birth of their Savior. Knowing how holy this day is to those of that faith, I’ve keeping up my tradition, wishing people a Merry Christmas, wanting to share their joy with them.
Tomorrow, I’ll be doing just that with my brother-in-law, celebrating Christmas with him and my sister in their home as per their tradition.
Below, in slightly revised form, I include (as I did in 2009) my original “Merry Christmas” post.
In 2004, when then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lit what most of us (including Jews) know as a Christmas tree. Some reporters sensed a controversy because his Democratic predecessor had called the decorated evergreen a “holiday tree.”
You see, that Democrat, like too many in our society, strove to eliminate all references to religion in public ceremonies and holiday displays. They seem to think that the Constitution has created some sort of wall of separation between church and state. Unfortunately, that expression (“wall of separation“) comes not from the U.S. Constitution, but from a letter of Thomas Jefferson. The actual text of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (quoting only the first part of the amendment referencing religion).
And frankly, this Jewish writer just doesn’t see how calling a decorated evergreen tree a “Christmas Tree” represents the establishment of religion. Or why it is so offensive. Indeed, a few of my friends worry that they might be offending me if they wish me a “Merry Christmas.”
Those very individuals, however, some of them devout Christians, are touched when I wish them “Happy New Year” at Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). When I lit the Chanuka candles with gentile friends on this holiday’s fourth night, they were touched that I would share the festive tradition with them.
Why should non-Christians be offended by a Christian’s sharing his or her joy in celebrating a religious holiday of his faith when delight in sharing our joy in celebrating ours?
If someone wishes us a “Merry Christmas,” they speak from their heart, wanting to share the spirit of this festival (sacred to them) with us. So, let’s welcome their good Christmas wishes, even when expressed to their non-Christian fellows.
Religious expression often (yet, alas, not always) humanizes us. In the Jewish World Review, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg wrote:
let’s put the “Ch” back into Chanukah! And, yes, let Christians put Christ back into Christmas. Let us not attempt to secularize our religions, or to blur our religious differences. Let us learn to respect each other’s religion. Then there will truly be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all men” … and women as well!
He’s right. Let’s learn to respect each other’s religions. We can’t do that by secularizing religious holidays. Nor by eliminating all references to sacred traditions in the public square. Let us share the joys of our tradition and use them to build bridges of understanding.
Indeed, the great Peggy Noonan thinks this might even help the Democrats, writing:
Stop the war on religious expression in America. Have Terry McAuliffe come forward and announce that the Democratic Party knows that a small group of radicals continue to try to “scrub” such holidays as Christmas from the public square. They do this while citing the Constitution, but the Constitution does not say it is wrong or impolite to say “Merry Christmas” or illegal to have a crèche in the public square. The Constitution says we have freedom of religion, not from religion. Have Terry McAuliffe announce that from here on in the Democratic Party is on the side of those who want religion in the public square, and the Ten Commandments on the courthouse wall for that matter. Then he should put up a big sign that says “Merry Christmas” on the sidewalk in front of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters on South Capitol Street. The Democratic Party should put itself on the side of Christmas, and Hanukkah, and the fact of transcendent faith.
Read the whole article and delight in Peggy’s wisdom and writing.
The immediate past governor of the (once-)Golden State was right to restore the original name to the state’s “holiday tree,” calling it what it is and has been–a Christmas Tree. We should welcome public displays of religion in our society and as Rabbi Wohlberg suggested, using them as means to respect each other.
So, from this Jewish American, Merry Christmas to all our readers.