Yes, You Actually Can Say Merry Christmas to a Jew

It happens every year. Someone walks past my desk on their way home that last night before the break, happy and Christmasy, with their handshakes and ho-ho-hos, and then there I am, all Jewish and stuff, watching their ruddy cheer melt into low-level panic.

“Hey!” they’ll say, a little less cheery. “Merry…I mean, Happy… I mean…”

It’s awkward for them, it’s awkward for me. Because they hate not being able to say “Merry Christmas.” But they know it’s probably NOT COOL to hate that they can’t say “Merry Christmas.” And if I wasn’t Jewish they’d talk about how it sucks that they can’t say “Merry Christmas.” Only how are they going to talk about it without starting a holy war?

And all they wanted to say was Merry Christmas and get out of my cube.

So here’s a secret (no, it’s not how you can get the free money): You actually CAN say “Merry Christmas” to a Jew, and no one’s going to set the Mossad on you.

What you can’t do, and this needs some explaining, are two things.

One, you can’t get outraged when someone says they’re insulted about your saying “Merry Christmas” to them. If you need to understand why, you could ask your parents who should have taught this to you already, but the only reasonable response to someone telling you that something you’ve said or done makes them uncomfortable is rather straightforward: “Sorry about that.”

Hokay?

The other thing you can’t do is that thing you may have done the first time you found out I was Jewish to begin with:

“Oh, you’re a — um, you’re a Jewish? I had no idea you were — uh, Jewish. I mean, you’re pretty cool for uh, I mean…”

“For a Jewish.”

“Yeah! You’re really cool for one of those.”

There’s a reason you walk away feeling like you just insulted me, even though you meant to give me a compliment. It’s because “you’re cool for a blank” is a code, whether you’re talking about a Jewish guy like me or an African American or a take-your-pick-ian. And the code, when translated, is “you’re surprisingly unlike the stereotypes that I harbor towards all the other people in your religion/race/sex/nationality.”

So, not cool.

But for Christmas, at least for me, it’s okay. In fact, like any Jewish, I feel a little guilty. Though if you think about it, there’s not much Christ left in Christmas these days. I’m not talking about the Trinity or Midnight Mass. I mean the American Christmas, Charlie Brown, chestnuts roasting, presents under a tree. Eggnog and starry nights and good cheer. These are all lovely things, so why should Jews have a problem being offered a chance to enjoy them? And in truth, we probably don’t.

So go ahead, wish me a Merry Christmas. This Jewish wishes the same to you. And maybe next year, all our troubles will be miles away.


I wrote this a few years ago over at BeYourself, and still sorta liked it, so here it is again. I know, blah, blah self-promotion. Trust me, no one is reading this.

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