I used to hate it when cartoon stations I watched growing up would wish me “Happy Holidays!” when the show went for a commercial break. The way I saw it, the network could animate the interstitial with all the secular snowflakes, Rudolphs and Frosty’s it wanted, but the only message I heard was “Merry Christmas!” and I wondered why they didn’t just come out and say it. I knew that as a Jew I was (and continue to be) the minority.
This is my first year celebrating Christmas. I’m staying with a friend in a small town in Ohio with her conservative religious family. Though I grew up in a majority Christian town, there was a synagogue down the street and I’ve lived in a east coast bubble my whole life. I’ve never sat at a table where someone prays before each meal. I’ve never been wished Merry Christmas by so many well meaning people who in all their well-meaningness assume I’m Christian because Christian is the norm.
It’s unintentionally offensive and makes me uncomfortable. Similar to my queer identity, I have to wonder if these well-meaning people would treat me with the same kindness if they knew I was not like them. Would I be so readily accepted as a Jew? As asexual?
I never noticed the extent of my privilege until I sat with my atheist friend as her family and a visiting pastor sang Christmas carols, many of which I did not know and almost all of which involved Jesus.
And I still have to check my privilege because most people at least know about Hanukkah and grant the holiday legitimacy. But what about holidays like Kwanzaa which are disregarded to such an extent I grew up believing Kwanzaa had no merit because it was only a recently established as a holiday. What I really grew up believing was that Kwanzaa had no merit because it was a holiday for African Americans. I only wish I had recognized my racism and bigotry sooner.
As the holiday season rushes toward Christmas, here’s a list of things to keep in mind that will make the holidays an enjoyable time for all.
1. Say Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. It’s a quick way to remind yourself that your faith and traditions are not the only ones being celebrated this season and it opens the floor for communication.
2. Learn about holidays and traditions of other faiths. I got to speak to a Pastor for the first time in my life and ask him about his duties. Before my college semester ended I attended a Kwanzaa workshop with Akinyele Umoja from Georgia State’s African-American Studies Program. My friend’s family has been great about getting me the ingredients to make latkes (Jewish potato pancakes) and challah (braided egg bread).
3. Include secular traditions in your festivities. Singing secular songs and winter activities like sledding or taking frozen walks are always great ideas. Not everyone believes in God.
4. Remember that people of varying gender and sexual orientations as well as people of different races will experience the holidays differently.
I wish everyone Happy Holidays and I’m looking forward to a great New Year!