Saying ‘Goodbye’ to ‘Merry Christmas’

Wishing the Happiest of Holidays to People of All Faiths This December


It’s the holiday season, a time for festivities and merriment, not pitting one religious observance against another. (Marti Eisenbrandt/The Observer)

Published: December 10, 2009

Last year, I handed in my last final exam at 11 a.m. on Dec. 22 and my professor said, “Thanks! Merry Christmas!” I felt the contempt creeping up.

Sure, I was about to go home to a big family dinner for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but that doesn’t mean that Merry Christmas is the only thing someone should be obliged to say to me. After all, Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated in December.

If you only know a person in a strictly professional (or, I suppose, academic) environment, you should be wishing him or her a happy holiday and perhaps a happy new year. Not a blessed Christmas—it’s just not an appropriate assumption.

So why is it, exactly, that some people are adamant about only greeting people in the month of December with “Merry Christmas?” Even my own mother refuses to stray from “Merry Christmas,” and she converted to Judaism 30 years ago.

Look, I’m not one to rewrite the laws and customs just so nobody could possibly be offended. I’m not a proponent of changing all the pronouns in the Bible to “she” or a completely gender-neutral alternative. I don’t think “under God” should be removed from the pledge of allegiance. I don’t even find “Merry Christmas” to be offensive. My family celebrates everything. Well, except Kwanzaa, I guess.

While there’s no reason a person should be kept from expressing well wishes for the holiday season, it’s still not appropriate to personally wish somebody “Merry Christmas” if you’re unsure of his or her religious identification. Am I crusading for menorahs and dreidels everywhere and the dominance of Chanukah in society? Absolutely not. Though I can’t say I would mind if the Fordham menorah was actually up-to-date this year—it always seems to be a day or so behind.

I understand that Chanukah is not a terribly significant religious holiday as far as Judaism goes. It’s certainly not on par with the high holy days, and it’s really only gained such popularity because of its proximity to Christmas and the commercialization of it all. But that doesn’t mean Christmas is the only holiday to grace our December calendars. So why not just be inclusive with your greeting, if it must be festive? If you’re not going to stick to “have a great day” or other such generic greetings, and you’re not in a church or synagogue or other venue where you can be sure of your audience, there’s nothing wrong with switching to “Seasons Greetings!” and “Happy Holidays!” Contrary to popular belief, acknowledging that other people celebrate other holy days doesn’t somehow seek to invalidate the holiness of what is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus. Nobody’s out to morally offend anybody or their God just because they acknowledge the existence of more than one type of person and his or her days of observance.

I can speak both as a Jew and as someone raised in the Catholic faith that you cannot expect one greeting to cover everybody. I wish my Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah and my Christian friends a Merry Christmas, just as I respect the ritual religious observations of my friends who practice other faiths. Christmas in the Tedesco house is an event that’s been featured in newspapers and on television shows—just look me up on Facebook to see what I mean. And although I admit that the eight-tree, hundred-Santa Claus Tedesco house spectacle is not put together by my (now Jewish) mother for religious reasons, I still can appreciate the good, hearty, Christian “Merry Christmas.” On Christmas. But during the holiday season, which begrudgingly gets longer and longer every year, there should be a certain degree of professionalism asserted by not assuming that everyone you meet is a Christian.

So be a little culturally sensitive this holiday season. Take a deep breath and exhale, “Happy Holidays,” and save the “Merry Christmas” (or “Happy Chanukah,” for that matter) for those who you can be sure observe those particular holidays.

But dear God, please don’t wish me a Merry Chrismakwanzakah. Or a Happy Festivus. I’ll take Merry Christmas over those ridiculous greetings any day.