Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? A Jew’s Opinion

Merry Christmas sign

Merry Christmas
Image courtesy of digitalart at

A debate has been raging which you may be following. The debate centers on whether it is more appropriate to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

Obviously, the politically correct answer is Happy Holidays.

After all, we live in a diverse society in a country that was founded on religious freedom.

Happy Holidays Sign

Happy Holidays
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

One of the reasons my grandparents and great grandparents came to America was to escape persecution that was based on religion alone. I feel very fortunate to be in America where I am free to practice my religion however I choose without fear of repercussions.

My background and feelings are not unique to me but are the story of many Americans.

So, diversity and appreciation for differences is one of the reasons I am most proud to be American.

Yet when it comes to the Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas debate, I do not have a strong opinion. In fact, while I would prefer people wish me Happy Holidays, I have no problem if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas.

After all, despite the diversity and melting pot that is America, according to numerous sources 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas.

And I am American.

Now, I have neither intention nor interest in celebrating Christmas (I will always be appreciative of receiving gifts, and I would be happy to provide you with a list). Similarly, I do not expect said people to celebrate Passover, Rosh Hashana or other Jewish Holidays.

Anyway, I don’t think wishing me a Merry Christmas is some sort of plot to convert, marginalize, or insult me.  I don’t think that wishing me a Merry Christmas shows a lack of respect for my holidays and religion. It is simply part of the vernacular at this time of year. It is no different from saying have a nice day, take care, all the best.

An article regarding Christmas appeared in the Washington Post. The article noted a study done by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. It said, “And one in four American adults (26 percent), [say] Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.” It seems that this trend toward viewing Christmas in a secular manner has grown over the past 10 years.

So, there is even less reason to feel offended should you receive the greeting Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays.

And really, if I was so bothered by the wish of Merry Christmas, what would that say about my feelings regarding my religious beliefs? I’d say it would mean I am either uncomfortable, defensive, or uncertain.

The reality is I am none of those things. And if I were so uncomfortable with my religion or my religious choices, I could change them. However, I am very content religiously.

For the record, I am a Jew, and I identify with those who consider themselves Modern Orthodox. I observe the Sabbath, follow the kosher dietary rules, and keep my head covered at all times (other than when I am teaching in a public school where I feel it is not appropriate).

So, go ahead. Wish me Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Just wish me well. It’s all good.

Growing Beyond Me

You ever wonder, wait, and hope for your kids to achieve a particular milestone? Then once they reach the milestone you realize you’re not so sure that you really want them there. Ultimately, you are left wondering what’s next.

Well earlier today, I did a guest post for my blogger friend Tatiana over at where I explored this topic of children moving on and how it brings both happiness and sadness. To read the article, click the link.


Questions, Questions

The former wife of a friend of mine once said she felt that talking to me was like being interviewed. She said talking to her husband was like being interrogated. I guess it is no wonder their marriage did not work out. Anyway, I am pretty sure she did not mean the comment about me as a compliment. I don’t care.

While I won’t find myself in the Small Talk Hall of Fame (where do you think such a place would exist – hmmm), I am good at asking questions. This skill has served me well over the course of my life. People generally love to talk about themselves. It is often their favorite subject. When I was on the dating scene, I spent many a first date asking questions and listening. Many girls appreciated it even if she or I did not want a second.

Asking questions is essentially what I do for a living. Or at least it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. I enjoy engaging the students in discussion. Often the discussion will stem from a piece of literature and then get into something on a deeper more personal level. For example, in Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallfower, there are a number of big issues. However, it ultimately comes down to accepting one’s self and others. This is a ripe area for questioning.


Book Cover - courtesy of

Book Cover – courtesy of


This past weekend my wife and I have been preparing for the holiday of Passover. Anyone who celebrates the holiday can vouch for the fact that it is a labor intensive holiday (not to mention expensive). It involves cleaning, changing dishes, and a lot of cooking. However, ultimately, the holiday is about the retelling of the Jews exodus from Egypt.

This retelling of the story happens the first two nights of the holiday (unless you live in Israel where it takes place only on the first night) at what is called a Seder. Seder can be translated into order. There is an exact order how the night goes between the retelling and the food that is to be eaten as part of the tale. We Jews are big on rules and instructions.

Seder table courtesy of

Seder table courtesy of

Anyway, some things are done at the Seder simply to inspire questions from the children.  For example, the person leading the Seder (customs vary) has a pillow on his chair, so he can recline.  A natural question a child may have is, “Why do you have a pillow on your chair?” The child is told that we are no longer slaves but free men and women. In fact, this is how royalty used to eat.

The Seder is a chance for a child to be engaged. Not only can a child ask away, it is encouraged and enlivens a Seder.

So, as my family and I sit down to our Seder, I look forward to hearing questions from BR and SJ. Yes, part of the reason is so that I know the private school tuition is going somewhere, but also it will give us a chance to talk, consider, and learn together.

To those who celebrate, Chag Sameach.  To those who are looking forward to the holiday of Easter, Happy Holiday.

Any more questions?

Get on the Boat

An old joke:
A great storm has taken place and massive flooding has occurred. A pious, holy man stood on his roof to escape the flood. As the water continues to rise ever higher, a boat comes along. The boat comes up to him and the people inside offer the religious man a ride. He declines, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” While those in the boat are surprised at his reaction, they recognize he will not get in, so they drive off. This same happenstance occurs two more times. Each time the end result is the same. The pious man declines by saying, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” Eventually, the holy man drowns.
The holy man gets to heaven, and he has his moment to speak with G-d. He says, “G-d, I don’t understand. I pray to you regularly, give charity, study the bible, and do acts of kindness to the stranger. I am a true believer. How could you let me drown? G-d replies to the religious man, “I sent you a boat three times, but you refused to get on.”

When offered an opportunity, take it. Don’t question. That is the lesson I take from that joke. You don’t know where or when opportunity will present itself. However, that doesn’t matter. Remember that Stevie Winwood song, When you see a chance, you take it.
Too often, I am a double clutcher to use a basketball comparison. The player who double clutches despite an open shot has his shot blocked. He/she can’t believe the opportunity they have, so they pause for a split second. Well, in that split second, the opportunity has come and gone.
I wonder what if, playing out multiple scenarios in my head. I tell myself I am being wise and practical. I tell myself I have:
children depending on me,
food to put on the table,
a mortgage,
private school tuition bills.
I have, have have. Too often, these blessings can double as burdens.

This week is Chanukah. A very brief summary of Chanukah – The Jews overcame the Greeks, the superpower of the day. The Greeks had ransacked the Temple. When the Jews came to the Temple to rededicate it, they found only one day’s worth of pure oil which was needed to light the menorah (or lamps). They lit the menorah, and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights by which time more purified oil was able to be secured.
One could easily ask why did they even bother lighting the menorah? The oil was not sufficient and ultimately would have disappointed. However, the people took that chance and let G-d determine what would be. They had faith. Another question which is commonly asked is why celebrate the holiday for eight days (of course extra jelly donuts, latkes, and presents is the answer most kids give)? After all, the first day was not a miracle. There was enough oil for one day, so the miracle took place over the final 7 days. One answer that I have heard to this dilemma particularly impresses me. The fact that oil lights at all is a miracle. It is not an acknowledged miracle but an everyday miracle. The lesson I learn from this is to appreciate the every day.
So as my family and I celebrate Chanukah and I contemplate the end of the year, I have lessons to relearn. I need to move forward, and pledge to get on the boat when it shows up at my door.