Sunday, December 19, 2004

The "Merry Christmas" Controversy

Earlier this year, the Committee to Save Merry Christmas was formed. Their goal: to restore the rightful place of the phrase "Merry Christmas" in store advertising and signage, a place that they think has been usurped by generic phrases like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings." In pursuit of this goal, they call for a boycott of Federated Department Stores (owner of chains such as Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Burdine's), which use such culturally-neutral greetings. Federated has posted a response to this campaign on their website.

Although the Save Merry Christmas committee has gotten a considerable amount of media coverage, it's not clear how big this movement actually is. Remember: the media gives an inordinate amount of attention to anything that is controversial, and on the Internet it is impossible to tell the difference between a groundswell of popular support and a single person with an axe to grind. What we do know about this committee is that the domain name was registered by Gary Tompkins, owner of The Fidelx Group, an organization that provides graphic, audio-visual and web assistance for Christian organizations. The Save Merry Christmas site has a link to Fidelx, but the link doesn't work because the Fidelx domain name registration expired last week. (Yo, Gary! Renew it before somebody squats it and posts something that you might not approve of!)

I confess, I have a certain ambivalence about phrases like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings." On the one hand, it's nice that people recognize that some people don't celebrate Christmas. On the other hand, merging all holidays together into one greeting reinforces the myth that all of the winter holidays are the same, that Chanukkah is just Jewish Christmas. That ambivalence is profoundly illustrated in the difference between two card-selling websites that I learned about last week.

Mixed Blessing sells multicultural holiday cards and gifts that celebrate the diversity of our culture. They show Christmas and Chanukkah (and sometimes other cultures) side-by-side in peaceful coexistence. It seems to me a perfect solution to the annual dilemma that many businesses face: what do we do about holiday cards?

On the other side of the coin, we have Chrismukkah Cards, which seems to me to be the worst-case scenario of multiculturalism gone wrong. It made me physically ill the first time I saw their cards of dreidels as Christmas tree ornaments, menorahs with candy canes for candles.

The melding of the two holidays into an amorphous, homogenized mess is a great disservice to Chanukkah, because fundamentally Chrismukkah is not a blending of Chanukkah and Christmas; rather, it is Christmas with dreidels and latkes. Whenever people attempt to combine the two into a "Happy Holiday," they take the form of Chanukkah without the substance, making Chanukkah meaningless.

Chanukkah at Judaism 101
What Do Jews Do on Christmas? at Judaism 101


Willem van der Mei said...


I am an avid visitor at you website Judaism 101.
I find what you posted on you blog is very accurate.
I am also for the cultural diffusion for the World
but not in the way of Christmukkah. I believe this should be done just by coexistence.


Willem van der Mei

Nummagumma said...

It's 2 days before "the biggest day of the year" and I am soooo sick of hearing "Happy Holidays" and "Have a Happy Holiday" and "Happy Chanukah" (yes, late).

Just call it Merry Christmas! It's your holiday, seize it! I don't wish people Happy Holidays! when YK and RH roll around... and I don't tell my Jewish friends Happy Holidays!


Feel free to wish me a Merry Christmas. My Christmas this year will be very Merry - it's Shabbat!

HasidicG said...

Well said Nummagumma!

Hokule'a said...

thank you for speaking out on this most important subject. I think the whole political correctness thing is soooo out of hand. By staying a distinctive people both as Christians and Jews we strengthen each other...these Holy days in particular have much to teach us all. The Divine Providence ect...Let us say the truth and not be offended when someone mistakenly thinks you are not Jewish or not a Christian.

JewFAQ said...

Let me clarify: I don't think this "Happy Holidays" trend has anything to do with political correctness. It's all about marketing.

In the minds of store owners, the holiday season is not about religion at all. It's about selling things: presents, cards, decorations, food, etc, etc, etc. A sign that says "Merry Christmas" puts Christians into the festive spirit of buying, but it doesn't affect the eight percent or so of Americans who don't celebrate Christmas. Ah, but a sign that says "Happy Holidays" ... that might persuade the rest of us to buy things! That might convince us that buying is not just for Christians! That's what this whole "Happy Holidays" trend is really about.

Or as political comedian Tom Lehrer put it in his Christmas Carol:
Hark the Herald Tribune sings
Advertising wondrous things
God rest ye merry merchants
May you make the Yuletide pay
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy

Rhianna said...

THANK YOU for taking this on! I am getting so sick of the "festivus" and "Chrismukkah". Celebrating multiple holidays such as Channukah and Christmas need not be a "let's throw 'em all together and see what we get". Celebrate each on their own merits, don't try to cobble some Frankenstenian horror out of parts from each.

While I support the "Christ back into Christmas" thing (on a take back the holiday from the stores, cards, candy and decorations companies level), I also make a point to remember and honor other holidays. IE, Channukah for my Jewish friends, Rammadan for my Muslim ones, and "Season's Grettings" for my Atheist/Agnostic ones, and Yule for my Pagan ones. That way, each one knows I thought of THEM specifically instead of some generic winter-wide holiday.

This blog has now become one of my favorites, and I really do like the articles and comments. You're a smorgesboard of "food for thought". Thanks, and keep up the excelent work!

Easy Writer said...

I, too, was INITIALLY disheartened when I saw the blantantly syncretic Chrismukkah cards on the Web site that you provided a link to on your blog. However, instead of passing judgment on it right away as offensive, I went to the Chrismukkah owner's of explanation of Chrismukkah and found this quote:

"We respect all people's right to believe in whatever faith or ideology they chose, and to whatever degree of orthodoxy they chose. By celebrating the Chrismukkah season, we do NOT suggest combining the religious observance of Christmas and Hanukkah. In our house, we chose to celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. We have a beautiful decorated holiday tree with ornaments. We light the menorah during the 8 nights of Chanukah. We go to the children's Hanukkah party at the synagogue we belong to. The outside of our house is decorated with electric lights. We go home to visit family during Christmas, and may attend Christmas mass as a family."

These cards are supposed to be FUNNY. They were created not to offend, but to celebrate the joy that surrounds the season for both groups of people. I would be offended for you and for me if they were meant to MELD the two holidays together, but they are not.

I do not like the Happy Holidays trend either. As an observant Catholic Christian, I'd like to say Merry Christmas in Church. I don't really care if it's posted in Bloomingdales. Neither should anyone else - as long as people aren't coming into your home or Church or synagogue and telling you how to observe or practice your religion, why are you fussing? I think everyone is making a big deal out of nothing.

If everyone put as much energy into educating minds about religion, rather than complaining about the lack of it in society, then perhaps we wouldn't have anything to complain about.

Debby said...

I can’t believe that the stores are already selling Christmas decorations. Where has this year gone?! Pretty soon it’ll be time to send out Christmas cards. Unbelievable! I’ve been surfing around to see if anybody’s talking about the latest gift ideas for the holidays. I never know what to get my relatives, especially those far away. My keyword search led me to The . While your blog wasn’t exactly on topic, I really have enjoyed reading your comments. Happy Holidays!

Karen said...

Christmas is such a fun time of year. While it’s quite expensive sending out Christmas cards, giving gifts and throwing parties, I just love it! It’s also a time for expressing appreciation to people. Although we have never met and never will, I just wanted to extend to you my best for the holidays. I have enjoyed reading your posts. I hope you have a great Christmas.