You know when you walk into a store, a movie theater, a restaurant, a bus, really ANYWHERE anytime after Thanksgiving, and you buy your gift, movie ticket, meal, bus ticket and so on, you inevitably get wished a “Merry Christmas?” How do you feel about that? Warm and fuzzy or … not so much?
Don’t judge me here, but in my college days (and to tell you the truth, probably longer), I was one of those we-must-educate-EVERYONE kind of gals. And I would get kind of miffed when wished an occasional “Merry Christmas” here and there. “Don’t they KNOW that not everyone celebrates Christmas? Don’t they CARE?” Well, to be perfectly honest, no “they” don’t. And at the risk of being TOO honest here, I just don’t think that’s something to get into a tussle about.
After years of nursing a certain amount of December angst about this topic, I was chatting it up with one of my favorite rabbis and he posed this question, “As someone who doesn’t celebrate the holiday, how do you react when told ‘Merry Christmas?‘” I was well prepared with an indignant response and a heated conversation (remember, I’d had YEARS of practice) when my favorite rabbi blew me away with, “The good news is, they’re wishing you well. Holiday wishes come from the right place. Make sure you wish them well, too.“
Not what you expected, right? Me, neither! But I have never forgotten those words and I keep them close to my heart every time anyone makes an assumption about my or my children’s backgrounds. Those are them up there. Verbatim. You can use them, too, if you’d like. Because of course that’s EXACTLY the kind of grace that I’d like to teach my kids. During the December holiday season when let’s just face it, people are not at their best: stressed, tired and sometimes rude; grace is the way to go. As is the high road. And as is assuming people are coming from a good place with good intentions.
Our kids need good language to use during the holiday season. Every single day they can expect to be asked, “Are you coming to see Santa today? What’s on your Christmas list? Did you already decorate your tree?” And they need to practice how to comfortably respond. We could educate these well-meaning people (and often just little old ladies at the grocery store) about diversity, and what happens when we assume, and our town’s population religious statistics. But what would our kids learn about the world and their place in it from this kind of reaction? How would they feel? Warm and fuzzy or…not so much?
There are very few things that I know for sure. But here’s a few that I’m positive about. I live in a place where most people celebrate Christmas, love it and assume that I do, too. Most people are good and kind and are truly wishing you well. Wish them well back. Be graceful, kind and approach everyone assuming that they are graceful and kind, too. Santa might not really be watching, but your kids sure are.