Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all that jazz


It’s late, dark and quiet. And what I’m thinking about is what I want for Christmas. So what’s a nice Jewish girl like me doing thinking about that? Why yes. Yes I am Jewish. And I celebrate Hanukkah. So for all extensive purposes, Christmas has nothing to do with me, right?

Except for as we both know, that’s a load of crap. The lights! The reindeer! The Santas! Christmas is everywhere. And it’s absolutely beautiful. Magical. Spiritual. And whatever way you celebrate it, I respect you. Because it’s your holiday. And your special day.

I don’t begrudge you Christmas. The cozy family time is right up my alley. And seriously, what’s not to appreciate about people’s strength and joy in faith?

I have so much curiosity and admiration for others’ celebrations and traditions. I want my children to see far beyond the four walls that my husband and I have created for them. This world is big, wide and simply stunning. And I want them to know that.

But on the same vein (Truly. It is.), I do think that it’s a little odd to wish everyone you see Merry Christmas. And to be offended when others choose Happy Holidays instead. Why? Well pure and simple: because not everyone celebrates Christmas.

My first grader’s classroom is rich with diversity. One day last week she came home breathless with excitement (true story) having just learned about Eid from oh-so-very-many of her classmates. She experienced. She appreciated. She shared. But people, she didn’t wish us a Happy Eid. And she didn’t wish all of her classmates a Merry Christmas. Because she knows that everyone celebrates different holidays and that’s the good stuff. The stuff that makes the world go round.

Grace. Kindness. Assuming that people are coming from a good place. Politically correct or not, isn’t that something that we can all stand behind?

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that the issue isn’t about taking Christmas out of society. It’s about letting everyone else in.

For example, I’ve decorated a Christmas tree, played “Find Baby Jesus” and made a reindeer art project or two. All in my classroom. When I was I a public school teacher.

I’ve also been a part of a Kwanzaa creativity share, made Hanukkah latkes and eaten long soba and udon noodles in honor of the Japanese Omisoka. Again, all in my public school classroom.

I used to invite all families into the classroom to share a holiday tradition with the kids. We all learned so very much from each other, enjoyed ourselves immensely and authentically experienced our differences and similarities.

Everyone’s traditions were acknowledged, respected and celebrated. And that’s the way that it should be. Everywhere. And something as simple as not assuming people’s faith or not getting all up in arms when people try to be all inclusive is easy. And graceful. And just plain…right.

I’m not offended when I hear Merry Christmas. And I’ve taught my children this graceful gem. Because I know what you mean. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, the scratch-beneath-the-surface sentiment is the same: I wish you well. Isn’t this season amazing?

And when someone like me wishes you Happy Holidays? My (Christmas!) wish is for you to know that I’m so not trying to offend you. Or take anything away from you. I’m just not making any assumptions about you, your beliefs or your celebrations. But regardless, I’m wishing you well. And with every fiber of my being, I think that’s the good stuff, too. Don’t you?

So here goes: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Eid or…wait for it…Happy Holidays to you!


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  1. 1

    30ish Mama says

    Great post Galit! The holiday season is about celebration and we should be able to celebrate each other as well our faith. There is nothing wrong with admiring somebody else’s religious holiday while enjoying your own. Happy Holidays!

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  2. 3

    Aimee @ Ain't Yo Mama's Blog says

    How lovely it is to see one of my favorite bloggers featured in the Scary Mommy Society! I heart Galit.

    As someone who celebrates Chrismukkah, I always say (and appreciate in return) a blanket “Happy Holidays.” Sure, some people complain that it’s too “PC”, but I agree with you that’s it about inclusion. What’s so wrong with wanting to include everyone under the giant holiday umbrella?

    People will surely wish me a “Merry Christmas” today, which certainly won’t offend me, but I will return it with “Happy Holidays”. And I’ll mean it, for whatever you may be celebrating.


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    • 4

      Galit Breen says

      Aimee! Hooray! No one (and I do mean no one) coins words like you do! Chrismukkah? Pure genius! And I’m with you, sister, I really mean it when I say whatever it is I say back, too! :)

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  3. 5

    Erin says

    Perfectly written. I couldn’t agree more.
    My favorite line…

    “I truly believe that the issue isn’t about taking Christmas out of society. It’s about letting everyone else in.”

    Thank you for bringing this to the table for discussion.

    As always I am thankful for your beautiful words strung together to say so many things that I feel.
    Happy Holidays to you, Galit!!!

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  4. 7

    myevil3yearold says

    I enjoyed your perspective very much.

    I have traditionally said “Merry Christmas.” This was not to offend or exclude anyone. I just grew up in a small town in the south and it was the norm.

    It is sad but now I don’t say anything about the holidays to people. If I say “Happy Holidays” someone might get mad and if I say “Merry Christmas” someone might get mad. But, just like you said I am just wishing someone well wishes.

    It just seems easier to not say anything which I agree is sad.

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  5. 13

    Mary Fretland says

    I have had a number of discussions on this very topic in just the last few days! It is so difficult to convey this sentiment to people who think anything but “Merry Christmas” is an affront on CHRISTmas. I get so frustrated! Some people don’t seem to understand that “Happy Holidays” is a well meaning greeting and not an insult. Sigh…

    I do have a question about the separation of church and state. I can’t decide how I personally feel about it, so I welcome comments. Is it better to try to include EVERYONE in the discussions about holidays, or is it better to leave it out of the public schools all together? Can you ever be sure you’re included EVERYONE and that there isn’t a quiet child in the back of the classroom feeling left behind? But at the same time, is it realistic to think you can ignore it all?

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  6. 14

    Elizabeth Flora Ross says

    I always say Happy Holidays and send holiday cards. I am Christian and celebrate Christmas, but have friends of many different faiths and try to respect that. But I end up offending people anyway, and get the “Keep CHRIST in Christmas” crap. I know what Christmas is all about. I just don’t expect everyone else to share my point of view!

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  7. 16

    Dawn says

    Galit! How absolutely wonderful! I loved reading every word, and love your style.

    I have a blog posting scheduled for Dec. 21st for the Chalk Blog about Christmas and the pace of it all.

    Aside from the fact that we are both incredibly busy, we should totally be hanging out in our personal lives.

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  8. 18

    Frume Sarah says

    I am so thrilled to see you grace the “pages” of Scary Mommy. Yasher koach!

    This is one area that we do not see eye-to-eye. While not everyone in this country celebrates Christmas, the overwhelming majority do. Christmas is a big deal (for Christians) and its pervasive hold on our culture is what has catapulted Chanukah to its current overblown status.

    When folks who are strangers (e.g. shopkeepers) wish me a “Merry Christmas,” they are doing it from a place of caring as well as being the socially-expected greeting for this season. I do expect my non-Jewish friends to know by now that we don’t do Christmas.

    Though we do not agree, this is a well-written piece and I still adore you ;)

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    • 19

      Galit Breen says

      hi there, lady! Thanks so much for the note! I actually think we *do* see eye-to-eye! I don’t take any offense- AT ALL- at being told Merry Christmas! I also don’t mean any offense when I say Happy Holidays and think it’s sad when people take offense to it.

      What we don’t see eye-tyo-eye about is about having any religious holiday in the schools at all. But I’m okay with agreeing to disagree with you- you’re that great! :)

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      • 20

        Frume Sarah says

        Aw…thanks! I think we’ll be discussing this a whole lot more in future days ;)

        I wonder how people feel about responding with “Happy New Year” instead of “Happy Holidays?” (Leaving aside, of course, the fact that several other groups have other new years that they observe.)

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    • 21

      Galit Breen says

      Mary! You’re here! YIPPEE! I’m with you 100%- whatever is being said it’s meant in a GOOD way!

      As for the church and state- I think that the fact that we have that term means that many feel that ideally it would be separate. BUT. But, do I daresay that’s just not realistic?

      So the bonus of that “fact” is that we get to learn from each other about things that we might not otherwise have known. I think it’s so authentic to learn about your classmates/ students rather than not know anything about their traditions and make (sometimes wrong?) assumptions.

      I think in both cases if we assume that people are coming from a good place- the outcome is good too. xo

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  9. 22

    Diane says

    YAY!!! I wrote about the same thing a couple weeks ago. Truth is the “Merry Christmas” is why this tie of year makes me sad. In my area, they are all worried about “Christ being removed from Christmas”. When, really, I just want to be included. I have issues with all of this when a true “Christmas” should not have Santa, the lights or a tree. A lot of the people in my (rural) area only want to have their “Chistmas”. Sort of ruins the magic of this time of year for the rest of us.

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    • 23

      Galit Breen says

      Diane, thank you so much for your words! They’re so eloquent! I need to go read your piece. And I have to say that I don;t think anyone should have anything taken from their celebrations- they’re all amazing! The Jewish mom in me wants to feed you to make it better. Peppermint hot chocolate maybe? :)

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  10. 24

    grace says

    Love this article and agree whole-heartedly. But the next time the expression pops up, I thought you should know that it’s “intents and purposes”, not “extensive purposes.” :)

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  11. 26

    Momma S says

    I think I would appreciate you more if you wished me a Happy Hanukah instead. I don’t take it as assuming; it’s an opportunity to learn more and appreciate you better.

    As a Christian celebrating Christmas I relish the opportunity to teach my kids about the diversity in our world. Not to shun, but embrace.

    I don’t like Happy Holidays because it’s so bland. If you’re Christian tell me Merry Christmas; Jewish, Happy Hanukah; Atheist, Bah Humbug; etc.

    So if we ever pass each other on the street, I hope you wish me a Happy Hanukah and I’ll wish you a Merry Christmas and we’ll both know that all the best was wished, but in our own special ways. And I’ll appreciate you more for it.

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    • 27

      Amie says

      Wishing you Happy Hanukkah doesn’t make sense to me though. And maybe it’s just me. Hanukkah isn’t on the same, fixed day every year. So why would I wish someone that after the time period?

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      • 28

        Galit Breen says

        @MamaS & Amie- Hmm..I’m kind of with Amie here. If I know what you celebrate then I’ll wish you that (Merry Christmas, by the way!). If I’m not sure than I’ll go with a more bland offering. And for the record: I appreciate you regardless! Thank you BOTH for your words!

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        • 29

          Amie says

          You’re welcome! Thanks for the post. And I totally agree with what you just said. I too, will offer up the exact words IF I know they fit. If not, I go with a generic. But being a Jew and offering up a Happy Hanukkah to non-Jews because it’s what I practice or on non-Hanukkah days is just plain weird to me. Call me crazy. I just might be. :)

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  12. 31

    Tiffany says

    This is an issue I find it difficult to get worked up over. When I was going through my anti-organized-religion phase, I resented any mention of God or Christmas (because it contains the word “Christ!” OH NO!), but now, I am just happy to see people being NICE to each other. I can appreciate the sentiment even if someone isn’t being all-inclusive. I figure that we’ll all wish people a happy whatever-we-happen-to-celebrate. Christmas is a national holiday in the US, so we could also consider that saying “Merry Christmas” is akin to saying “Happy Flag Day”! :)

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    • 32

      Krista says

      I agree with Tiffany 100% and would have commented it myself if she didn’t say it for me. I just like seeing people being nice to each other, slowing down for half a second to give someone a holiday greeting. I don’t care if it’s Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, or Happy Weekend.

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    • 35

      Diane says

      Eid is actually a generic term for Holiday in Islam. They separate them based upon the words that come before or after. There is one around this same time of year for Muslims. I think it is the Eid-Al-Adha but not totally positive. A celebration feast. Different names throughout the world, too.

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      • 36

        Galit Breen says

        @ JustMom- *SO* not ignorant! You asked! How else are we supposed to learn?!

        & Diane- Thank you for explaining things so well. From what i understood this one was a biggy, following a fast.

        Love that this whole convo just happened, btw! My diversity-lovin’-soul is in heaven!

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        • 37

          Hannah @A Mother in Israel says

          Hey Galit, I’m also a fan of both sites.
          As far as I understand it, Islam follows a 12-month lunar calendar so that each holiday can come out at any time of year. The Jewish calendar also uses lunar months, but adds an extra one every 2-3 years to keep more or less on the solar calendar as well.

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  13. 39

    Sara says

    This is a great way to summarize the holiday season. It really should be all about inclusion rather than a narrow definition of what a holiday *should* be. I really enjoyed reading this!

    I also really like how you celebrated different holidays in your classroom. I don’t remember ever learning about other holidays in school, and that makes me sad. It inspires me to really ensure that my son is exposed to different cultures when he gets older (he’s only 3mo now, so I think I have some time).

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    • 40

      Galit Breen says

      Sara, lol! You *do* have some time and seriously bless you for having time to blog read (and comment!) when your babe is so little! I was such a mess in those early days!

      You should know that you made me tear up w/ your words about teaching your son. That’s *so* making the world a better place. For real!

      Thanks for your note, Mama!

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  14. 41

    Kim says

    Galit: so beautiful to see you here on Jill’s site! I never like to assume anything and honestly, I’ve always been bothered by the fact that certain holidays seem to trump others in this society – because of what we make of them. And I particularly get concerned for children who might feel left out in schools. I like to ask people I come to know what their tradition is but if I don’t know, I usually use “Happy Holidays” because I don’t think most people are offended by that. In general,I agree with your sentiments Galit and you expressed them very well. Hugs!

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  15. 43

    Monica says

    I totally agree with you in that I am never offended, as a Christian, if someone in passing wishes me Happy Holidays.

    What DOES offend me is when shopping establishments FORBID their employees from wishing me a Merry Christmas. If I come up the checkout counter with $200 worth of toys, wrapping paper, and Christmas Cards the employee should be allowed to wish me a Merry Christmas if they so choose without fear of getting fired. Especially at this time of year when Hanukah is over – it is pretty obvious what holiday I am preparing for.

    And, lets be honest, those same shopping establishments wait ALL YEAR LONG for the christians to come out in droves for the biggest shopping spree of the year which brings their bottom line back into the black. Give me my “Merry Christmas” when I checkout for goodness sake LOL!

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    • 44

      Galit Breen says

      Hi Monica! Thanks so much for your note! I’ve *never* heard of that- it’s awful! I wonder if it’s easier to remember or just becomes habit to say Happy Holidays? Who am I kidding? I don’t have a reason! I hate the thought of anyone getting fired (well, ever really) but especially over words that are meant to be kind! I’m really glad that you weighed in here and shared that!

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      • 45

        Monica says

        A couple of years back Walmart and some other big-box stores told employees they were not allowed to say Merry Christmas anymore. It was all over the news. Thankfully, it only lasted a year because Walmart had its lowest sales in history due to an unofficial protest. A friend worked there during the “ban” and said that management had threatened to fire them if they said anything other than Happy Holidays. Crazy.

        FWIW, I don’t care if an employee *chooses* to say Happy Holidays to me. Just don’t ban the ones who are comfortable saying Merry Christmas from doing so, you know?

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        • 46

          Galit Breen says

          Monica, I *do* know what you mean! And I really do think that *most* people would think that’s completely ridiculous! Respect goes both ways, for sure! Thanks again for your words! :)

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  16. 49

    Carolyn (temysmom) says

    As a fellow Jew, I so appreciate this post. I completely agree that a simple “Happy Holidays” is NOT about dissing Christmas, but about letting the rest of us in to participate in the joy of the holiday season.

    I work every week in my daughter’s kindergarten class and when I was there making latkes for the kids, there was another parent there who just kept repeating, “I don’t celebrate Chanukah” to the kids, like it was a bad thing or like he didn’t want to be known as Jewish. THAT offended me. All we were trying to do was TEACH the kids about other customs and holidays – we weren’t preaching religion. The kindergarten teacher happens to be Jewish… the only one in the school that actually DOES something for Chanukah.

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    • 50

      Galit Breen says

      Carolyn, hi! I so *love* that you were in there making latkes! I bet it made the whole place smell divine! I’m sorry about the experience that you had with the other parent. Kind of puts a damper on what should have been a great moment. For the record, I’m pretty sure most other parents would have just dug in! Thanks so much for your note, lady! I really appreciate it! :)

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