Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Saying "Merry Christmas" without the Neurosis

I used to wish my Christian friends a very reluctant "Happy Holiday" when Christmas rolled around, feeling like saying the word "Christmas" meant acknowledging and giving honor to the birth of "that man", whom they erroneously call the "Christ/Messiah", giving tacit support to avoda zara, the belief in a "man-god". It's the same reason I used to feel my skin crawl if I somehow found myself stuck inside a Reform shul during services - that I was betraying Torah, giving my unspoken approval to foreign and wrongheaded practices.

But today I gladly, without any hesitation whatsoever, extended a warm "Merry Christmas" to a Christian friend of mine. Of course I reject the "man-god" concept as ridiculous. But I acknowledge that holidays for most people have very little to do with the theological/conceptual package, and everything to do with family, memories, songs, traditions, food, joy, more down-to-earth concepts like "goodwill towards men". Holidays are packed with meaning and personal/family significance - THAT is what I honor when saying "Merry Christmas". I honor the person by acknowledging what is deeply significant to him (in this case a "him"). Just like he'll wish me a "Good Shabbos" even though he doesn't believe in a literal seven-day Creation (and even though as a non-Jew he's "chayav mita" if he keeps Shabbat) - because he knows that Shabbat as Jews experience it has nothing to do with all that.

And of course what helped make my more respectful, more human greeting possible is the fact that I reject not only the man-god, but also the God-god. I've made the move to "clean house" entirely by trying as best I can to sweep out the door (and not just under the rug) untenable beliefs not only of other people's traditions (which is all too easy to do) but also those within my own tradition. We can argue over who's got "crazier" beliefs, the one who holds by the virgin birth or the one who holds that the sea split, the one who holds that God incarnated in the form of a man or the one who holds that God inscribed His will word by word in the form of the Torah, the one who holds that belief in Jesus as savior brings eternal salvation, or the one who holds that the dead will one day literally rise from their graves and roll their way to Eretz Yisrael. As I say we can argue but we'd be foolish not to see that there's a bit of "crazy" in each of us.

So ok, if I can take Judaism's craziness with enough of a grain of salt to actually devote a huge part of my life to religious observance and Torah learning, then I can take Christianity's craziness with enough grain of salt to wish a good friend a "Merry Christmas" - that is, providing I also get to wish a hearty "Mazel Tov" on the bris come January 1.


  1. Replies
    1. No, no. :-)

      I meant that January 1 is the day when Jesus was supposedly circumcised (i.e. the 8th day after Dec. 25).

  2. I say "Happy holidays" first of all because people notice when I say "X-mas" and not the full word and because, let's be frank, there's three holidays in thee: X-mas, Boxing Day and New Years. And yes, Boxing Day is a holiday. It's the festival of great deals!

    1. A veritable holy trinity of shop-till-you-drop.

      The U.S. of course takes a "zrizim makdimim l'mitzvot" approach with Black Friday a full month earlier!