The holiday season is here.
Most of us have stuffed ourselves with stuffed turkeys. We hear talk of winter break with the anticipation we would feel hearing the Long Island Railroad PA system announce, “The 2:46 train to Huntington is operating on time.” The train will soon be pulling into the station to take us to freedom.
Just as hitting the snooze button on my alarm indicates the arrival of morning, people complaining about the Starbucks holiday cups (now they’re too gay) is the surest sign that it is acceptable to wear ugly sweaters, exchange gifts and listen to the same holiday songs over and over again.
And as we plunge into this unnecessarily politicized season, my Facebook feed will be filled with half of my friends getting offended by “Merry Christmas” and the other half getting offended by “Happy holidays.” Honestly, it would make more sense to me if we had fights over whether “Home Alone” or “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” was a better movie (clearly “Home Alone 2”).
I have a Jewish friend who is dating a Christian and celebrated Christmas last winter, but made sure to regularly rant about how wishing Merry Christmas reinforced religious exclusivity. Another friend argued that anyone who wished him, “Happy holidays” was clearly a liberal snowflake. These people believe that the very greeting we use in this season, meant to increase unity, divides us.
But it does not. If you walked through my community on a Saturday afternoon wearing some kind of formal outfit, men in suits and women in dresses would greet you with a “Gut Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom” – Yiddish for “Good Sabbath” and Hebrew for “Have a peaceful Sabbath.” They say this not because they want to express religious dominance over passersby, but because they want to be nice and say, “Have a good Saturday.” They assume, in a majority-Jewish community, that you are Jewish.
America is the largest Christian-majority country in the world. According to a 2014 study from the Pew Research Center, 70.6 percent of Americans identify as Christian. So it is not crazy to assume that whoever I talk to will respond favorably to “Merry Christmas.” Also, with an increasing appreciation for multiculturalism in America, let us appreciate the celebration of Christmas as we do all other holidays. Besides, isn’t the whole point of the holiday season to increase cheer and joy in the world? Why are we getting into fights about how we greet people?
On the other side, responding negatively to the greeting, “Happy holidays,” is stupid. No one is impinging on your right to celebrate Christmas. They are just acknowledging that there are other holidays that other cultures celebrate. Being inclusive of others doesn’t imply enmity. Just like responding to “Shabbat Shalom” with “Happy Saturday” doesn’t mean you hate the people in my community. We’re all saying the same thing but using different words to say it.
One of the nicest traditions at Stony Brook is the Festival of Lights, where we celebrate a host of winter holidays from a host of religious and cultural backgrounds. We learn from each other and share in our foods and traditions. We even have musical and artistic presentations from all of the participants. This year, the festival is taking place on Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Student Activities Center Ballroom A. Come and you’ll realize why it’s on the list of 25 things to do before you graduate.
Visit for a while and wish me a “Merry Christmas” or a “Joyous Kwanzaa” or a “Chanuka Same’ach” or a “Happy holidays.” I don’t really care.
Just rock your ugly sweater, buy me a cheap gag gift and stop complaining.