Yuletide Greetings from the desert. This one’s stream of consciousness, straight from the heart.
Yesterday, as I was finishing book edits at a coffee shop in Cave Creek, Arizona, I was also saying “Merry Christmas” to the staff and regulars I knew there.
Then, as I was driving home, I started thinking about how many times I’ve said “Merry Christmas” over the last week. A lot! Who can count?
Then I realized that I really like saying “Merry Christmas” to folks, even though it’s not a holiday of the faith that I was brought up in. I also realized that over the last several years, more and more of the people I’ve wished a “Merry Christmas” to have also wished me a “Happy Hanukkah.” And that’s because more and more of the friends I’ve made aren’t Jewish.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made non-Jewish friends every year of my life since I was a kid. And working in TV and politics for 20 years, I still have close and lasting friendships with a lot of those folks around the country. But living in Arizona for the most part over the last five years, well, that number has grown exponentially.
A good number of these newer friends are more politically conservative than I am. And oh, how I get ribbed for being part of the “Kumbaya” left (even though we really don’t talk politics that much). I give as good as I get, and laughter usually ensues.
Nearly all of these friends, when they reply “Happy Hanukkah” back to my “Merry Christmas,” say it a little sheepishly. I think that’s because unlike Christmas, which always falls on the same date — which everyone knows — the eight nights of Hanukkah stretch across different dates each year. If I were them, I wouldn’t know when Hanukkah was either.
The funny thing is that in spite of our different backgrounds, and the fact that Jews are a tiny minority within the world’s population, when my right-of-center friends consciously say “Happy Hanukkah” to me, they are in a way acknowledging that “diversity” thing that left-of-center folks are characterized as going overboard on all the time!
Of course, politics and religion are not the same. And I am most certainly overstating the meaning of these holiday greetings. But as I said, we’re streamin’ live here.
Some might find it odd that a guy who’s co-authoring a book about new ways to share Israel’s story in an effort to strengthen both its future as a nation and that of the Jewish People — is also writing an article about his affinity for saying “Merry Christmas.” But to assume those two things are in conflict is really kind of silly. Just like our politics today, differences often get twisted up beyond any sense of basic reason.
The upshot is that for most people I know, respecting different faiths — or belief systems in general — is not a heavy lift. They coexist. Easily. Extremists are the exceptions, and I don’t spend a lick of time with their ilk. Even the most ardently religious friend I have has the capacity to keep open mind and can respect those whose dispositions differ from his — as long as they’re not harming anyone else.
I had a conversation earlier this week with a newer, non-Jewish friend about just this concept — the idea that if someone’s faith makes them a more peaceful person and that helps them to be kinder in the world, no matter what faith it is, God bless ‘em. Literally.
During that same conversation, my friend and I noted the fact that many of the virtuous principles we we’re taught growing up — from our different faiths — actually come from original sources that are either identical or have a whole lot in common. History can be complicated, and so can human interpretation. About anything.
But sooner or later you get down to the most basic and simple fact — that we are all human. And in the free world, what we all have in common is the autonomy to choose how we will think and act. In fact, this is the reason why multiple belief systems can coexist.
I think this fact is also part of the reason I like saying “Merry Christmas.” As a Jew, sharing this greeting is actually a way of celebrating our differences — rather than bemoaning them. We’ve had enough of that.
It also makes people smile.
So let me extend both a Merry Christmas and Happy Eighth Day of Hanukkah to all those who are celebrating! Increase the peace. Good will every day. And all the rest of those salutations that I can’t resist paraphrasing.
Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy and fulfilling 2023 — one loaded with love and laughter! All that matters.