I like good cheer. But please do not wish me “Merry Christmas.” It’s wonderful Merry Christmas Wishes if you celebrate it, but I don’t — and I don’t feel like explaining that to you. It’s lonely to be reminded a thousand times every winter that the dominant American cultural event occurs without me.
Christmas is a lovely holiday, but it is definitely not a secular one. It is a celebration of Christ, as its very name implies. As a Jewish person, I have zero problems with your celebrating the birth of a person you believe is God’s only son, who grew up to die for your sins. I don’t share your faith, but I don’t begrudge you the joy of your celebration. In fact, I often participate, as I will this year when I bring Christmas presents wrapped in Christmas paper to a Christmas dinner with my friends and their sweet children. There’s no problem here: We know, respect and celebrate each other’s differences.
My family even celebrated a version of this holiday for decades. In the Soviet Union, run as it was by the self-declared militant godless, Christmas was a secular holiday: It was called New Year’s. People had New Year’s trees, decorated with New Year’s ornaments, under which Father Frost would leave New Year’s gifts. These images are central, beloved memories of my childhood — waking up to a sparkling, decorated tree in my room, piled high with presents that, given that it was the Soviet Union, were often slightly defective. When we came to the United States, we brought ornaments, some of which have been in the family for generations. For the first few years in the States, we’d get a New Year’s tree on Dec. 26, decorate it, lay presents under it and celebrate the New Year as we had for as long as anyone could remember.