'Happy Holidays?' But I Only Celebrate One

Growing up in New York, I loved the week before Christmas vacation (yes, that is what it was called) in elementary school. We would make Christmas and Hanukkah decorations for our classrooms and then the day before vacation, all the classes would congregate in the main hallway, and we would sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. We played dreidel for gelt (Hanukah chocolates). We shared what toys we were hoping to receive.

We were encouraged to share our beliefs and traditions while celebrating our differences. I believe we were better for it; we were more connected.

My best friend at the time was Jewish. I loved learning about the Menorah, chuckling with my friend about her family's "Hanukkah bush" decorated with lights and truth be told was a little jealous that my friend got presents for eight days and I only got them on one. But then she confessed to me that she was jealous of all the presents stacked under our Christmas tree because she only got one present a day.

That was one of my "ah ha" moments -- the presents aren't always more abundant on the other side.

During that week, we wished each other a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hanukkah; there was no "Happy Holidays" to toss out there for whomever to catch.

Our next door neighbors were from India and around this time of year they celebrated Dawali, the Hindu festival of lights. We would be invited to their family celebration of Dawali, and we would go merrily wishing them a Happy Dawali. I would reluctantly try some of the curried food but in all honesty found it too spicy for my immature palate. But I loved looking at the women's beautiful saris and admired the colorful lights adorning their home. I would ask the other children what they were getting for Dawali, and they'd want to know what was on my Christmas list.

On Christmas Eve, my parents had an open house and the Indian family was there every year wishing us a Merry Christmas. My dad's Jewish friend, a New York City police officer, stopped by on his way in to work the night shift so a Christian officer could have the night off to spend with his family. He always needed a package of my mother's homemade Christmas cookies to enjoy during his shift. On his way out he would shout, "Merry Christmas!" and we would respond, "Happy Hanukkah!"

Fast forward to today where "Happy Holidays" is issued forth because we don't want to offend anyone. That's ironic because lumping everyone's holy day in together actually denigrates them all. It sends the message that we don't want to really know what other people celebrate so we'll just cover everyone with a generic greeting and think the politically correct way makes everyone happy.

In an era when people broadcast personal information across the Internet through Facebook posts, Tweets, and comments, they seem to want to keep their religious beliefs private. Opening up to total strangers about your personal life doesn't seem strange when people hold cell phone calls in public places but saying Merry Christmas is a step too far?

Often when I am greeted with "Happy Holidays", I want to say, "I only celebrate one, Christmas." Instead I wish them a hearty "Merry Christmas." Sometimes I'm rewarded with the greeting right back as the person seems secretly relieved they can wish their fellow man a Merry Christmas because that's what they wanted to say in the first place but felt they might offend me if they had done so. I would not have been offended if they had wished me a Happy Hanukkah or a Happy Dawali either, I would be touched they offered me a personal greeting.

When people say "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy Dawali" they are sharing with you what is important to them. Accept the greeting in the spirit it was delivered and share with them what is special to you. As Richard Paul Evans once said, "The universe is a trillion, trillion threads moving in seemingly unrelated directions. Yet when you look at them together, they create a remarkable tapestry." So, I wish you a Merry Christmas.