I have never sent a happy holidays card. Ever.
Growing up Jewish, it was simply not something that we “did.” Yes, my mother cheerfully displayed the happy holidays cards from our non-Jewish friends, but it was very clear to us kids that our Jewish friends would not be sending cards. Or, in the rare instance that a Jewish friend did, it was something we slightly chuckled about, knowing that their sending a card was somewhat peculiar.
And why do we get our latkes up in such a bunch about this? As with anything that has to do with religion and religious custom, there are countless opinions. But to me it boils down to two major issues. The first issue is the relative importance of Christmas and of Hanukkah, and the second is assimilation.
To start, Christmas is one of the most important and sacred of Christian holidays, while Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays (our most sacred holidays are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, collectively the High Holy Days, which typically occur in September and October). However, because Christmas and Hanukkah usually occur at similar times of the year, there is a tendency to erroneously equate the two or, at the very least, lump them together into a catchall “Holiday Season.”
The notion of the Holiday Season brings us to the second issue: assimilation. There is a fear that by adopting certain Christmas and holiday traditions – for example, giving gifts on Hanukkah is not an original, Jewish tradition – Jews are losing a part of their identity. Some argue, not incorrectly, that the story of Hanukkah stems from the Maccabees’ unwillingness to assimilate. Thus, the Holiday Season is considered much more of a Christian tradition; the Jewish "Holiday Season" is the High Holy Days.
But this is the United States in the 21st Century, not 165 B.C.E. Jerusalem. For all the problems that this country faces, we each enjoy the fundamental right of freedom of religion. Unlike the Maccabees, no one is trying to force us to practice something we do not believe, or not practice something we believe. And it is partially because of this critical freedom that this country has become home to a beautiful array of different religions and cultures, a mixture that both defines us and, together, make us whole.
I am proud of being Jewish, although I am also much more culturally Jewish than religiously Jewish (these days, I prefer my own form of spirituality to organized religion), and I believe our traditions are important. I am also proud of being American, and grateful to live in an environment enriched by the fact that some of my closest friends and family are not Jewish. I love learning about their cultures and traditions (and being invited to take part in them). I also love our shared, American culture and traditions. After all, who doesn’t think Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays of the year (it’s my personal favorite)?
So why not send holiday cards? I love receiving handwritten notes in the mail, particularly in today’s world of too many, faceless emails, and I am an absolute sucker for artful stationary (love me some blind letterpress). And in this time of the year (yes, the “Holiday Season”), I get so excited as the well wishes begin arriving in my mailbox: a picture of my college friend with her husband and beautiful new baby, greetings from a friend in Philadelphia with a note saying a reunion is due (she is right), etc.... The cards, now proudly displayed on my mantel, are such a warm way to reconnect, particularly with our friends and family scattered around the country and the world.
The Holiday Season may not be a Jewish thing, but I do see it as partially an American thing. I look forward to the festive streets lined in greenery and tree limbs wrapped with tasteful lights. I will never, however, have a Christmas tree in my own house (although I am still on the lookout for a Hanukkah ornament for my best friend’s Christmas tree). I think going to Zoo Lights and the Christkindlmarket is fun, just as I enjoy eating latkes, lighting the menorah, and exchanging Hanukkah gifts with my family. Similarly, I see no conflict in celebrating both New Year's Eve on December 31, and the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah (which I happen to prefer) months earlier. Both are part of my personal traditions.
Given this, I have decided that my husband and I just may send happy holidays cards next year (when I made this decision, my sweet husband offered for us to send Happy New Year cards this year, but I don’t think there’s enough time even for that). And if anyone chuckles at them because “Jews don’t send holiday cards,” that's just fine by me. * This Jew respectfully disagrees.
Holiday card available at SCOUT'S HONOR, Co.
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