Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2000 / 16 Kislev 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I'M DREAMING of a white holiday. I'll be home for holiday; you can count on me. How the Grinch stole holiday. If you're over a certain age (say 40), you can't help but notice how Christmas is fading from our culture.
I don't mean the banishment of creches from the courthouse steps or the prohibition on Christmas carols in public schools, due to a liberal misinterpretation of the First Amendment.
But beyond the public square, Christmas is being rapidly replaced with a generic holiday that, by coincidence, comes around Dec. 25.
"Merry Christmas" has been generally discarded in favor of "happy holiday." Stores have holiday sales. Schools have a winter recess. There's a holiday party at the office. Can holiday trees be far behind?
A paper coffee cup from my favorite overpriced caffeine emporium uses words like "wishes," "merriment" and "joyful" to convey a sense of the season. The "C" word is conspicuous by its absence. If they used it, would non-Christian patrons choke on their lattes?
Nostalgia aside, I don't have a personal stake in this. I'm Jewish, so it ain't my holiday that's being stiffed.
But it is curious. After all, Christianity is the religion of 86 percent of the American people. In a demographic sense, America is more Christian than Israel is Jewish. Try to imagine no signs of Purim or Passover in Jerusalem, or a Saudi Arabia where Ramadan is barely mentioned.
But I forget, America is to be the first totally secular nation on earth, contrary to the vision of our founders. The secularists' war on faith has spilled over to the culture.
One reason for excluding prayer and religious symbolism from public institutions (besides the fear that "O Little Town of Bethlehem" sung in a third-grade classroom would lead directly to crusades and inquisitions) is a politically correct horror of marginalizing minorities.
Ours is a hypersensitive society that lives in dread of anyone being offended or feeling excluded -- except for Christians. Thus, wishing a "merry Christmas" to someone who doesn't celebrate the day supposedly will result in feelings of exclusion and alienation, as will Christmas parties and the like.
In this regard, it's only religious or racial minorities whose feelings concern us. We don't worry about the modest majority being offended by the torrent of filth spewed forth by Hollywood, or veterans aggrieved by the desecration of national symbols, or Catholics provoked by plays ridiculing the pope. Here, the consensus seems to be:These folks are just too damned thin-skinned. They'd better wake up and realize what century they're living in.
Those we project on them probably aren't the feelings of most religious minorities, who are too sensible to agonize over the nation's majority publicly celebrating their religion.
On those rare occasions when someone still wishes me a merry Christmas, I assume the following: 1) They don't know I'm Jewish. 2) This is a holiday that 86 percent of Americans celebrate so it's logical for someone who doesn't know me to infer that I observe it, too. 3) It's a gesture of good will. To all of which I say: fine.
What does offend me is Jews who think Hanukkah is a Jewish Christmas (Christmas without Christ), misunderstanding the religious significance of our holiday.
How long the holiday spirit can be maintained divorced from Christmas itself is anyone's guess. After all, we don't celebrate the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving with presents.
The joy of the season -- the exuberance, the benevolence, the optimism -- is a reflection of Christmas and its spiritual dimension.
The Magi brought gifts to the babe in the manger. The herald angels (to whom we are to harken) were the bearers of glad tidings. St. Nicholas -- the prototypical gift-giver -- was a 4th century bishop of Asia Minor.
Even for those who don't celebrate it, Christmas provides cultural coordinates. Will future generations wonder whence this "holiday" came, and if it has any meaning beyond frantic shopping binges and garish colored lights?
When I was a child, the Knights of Columbus put up billboards urging
the public to "Keep Christ in Christmas." Today, the challenge is to keep
JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.