Last Thursday, LSA students received an email with a video message from Dean Anne Curzan. “Hi, everyone, and happy holidays,” she began, just a word off from the “Hello, everyone, and happy holidays” she used the previous two years. Before that, Curzan preferred the salutation in reverse: “Happy holidays, everybody.” The official LSA holiday video greeting is a tradition dating back at least to 2015, when Dean Andrew D. Martin discussed the time he shoved a pie in a student’s face. Something else is strange about those videos, though. They feature snow, fireplaces, comfortable robes, festive lights, shades of red and green, glockenspiels, and, of course, the phrase “happy holidays.” But there is a conspicuous absence of one important theme: religion.
A search of the LSA Twitter account confirms this trend. Since that account was created, in September 2010, it has posted the word Christmas twice, compared with 19 mentions of the Gregorian new year and 27 references to the general holiday season. Clearly, this is purposeful, but is LSA’s failure to wish students a merry Christmas actually sinister?
Your answer will depend on how much emotional investment you put into it. Look, Christmas in my family is the day all the businesses are closed. I don’t observe it religiously or culturally. Dennis Prager, my fellow Jew, says we should all celebrate Christmas because it’s a national holiday, “as American as the proverbial apple pie,” but I don’t see Christmas as a necessary expression of my patriotism. And, incidentally, I find myself wishing people “happy holidays” quite a lot this time of year.
But the wrong way for Christians to react to non-celebrators is to censor themselves lest they insult or ostracize those of us in the minority. Barely any non-Christians are demanding freedom from Christmas, and you should not capitulate to anyone who is.. It’s a beautiful holiday, and there’s no reason why celebrating something important to you should bring you embarrassment. Nor should you feel pressure to secularize your cherished Christmas traditions. The customs of one family or culture won’t suddenly be more meaningful to another if they’re rebranded inclusively. Don’t feel uncomfortable about sending us Christmas cards or inviting us to Christmas parties, and I assure you that your Christmas tree doesn’t need to be a “holiday tree” any more than my Sukkot lulav needs to be a “holiday lulav.”
So what should you do to acknowledge the holidays? Well, if you’re the university, please stop sending me emails. A kind message on Twitter about a specific religious or secular occasion, however, could brighten the social media experience. LSA’s Twitter account has a lesson to learn from its sole, misbegotten tweet mentioning Hanukkah, from 2014. The tweet announces, “At sunset, #Hanukkah begins,” which is not quite correct, and it ends with the non sequitur “May its lights usher in a better world for all humankind.” The image included in the tweet isn’t something Jewish but rather the phrase “HAPPY HOLIDAYS” surrounded by snowflakes and some leaves and berries that evoke Christmas more than anything else. Like the British Labour Party’s Passover tweet with an illustration of bread, LSA’s post was careless, but I’m honestly unable to be upset about it.
The best thing you can do, really, is give and receive season’s greetings with grace. Offering a sincere, well-meaning “merry Christmas” or “happy holidays” is a lovely way to connect with your fellow students. If you’re the recipient of a winter greeting you’d rather not get, whether it came from a Salvation Army Santa or the state, try feeling complimented instead of attacked. Searching for reasons to be aggrieved is a pathetic response to a message of goodwill. Maybe you’ll even pull Dean Curzan’s video out of the trash and listen to her explain the history of the word ’tis.
A happy Hanukkah, a rejuvenating Rosh Chodesh, and a reflective Asarah B’Tevet to you all!