“[We thank You] for the miracles, and for the salvation, and for the mighty deeds, and for the victories, and for the battles which You performed for our forefathers in those days, at this time." - Hanukkah prayer
This year, the eight-day-long Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins after sundown on December 25 – Christmas Day. What a fitting occasion for Christians, Jews, and all people of faith – as well as agnostics and atheists – to come together, bury the hatchet, and celebrate the remarkable tradition of religious pluralism on fulsome display in the United States.
This is no paean to some mealy-mouthed, watered-down version of tolerance, nor is it an ode to an ACLU-endorsed version of the separation of church and state. On the contrary: America is so accommodating to members of all faiths – and members of no faith – precisely because of its inherent religiosity. The open-armed welcome it has extended to its Jews, in particular, is a gesture of particularly Christian kindness.
Such a pity, then, that people of all stripes have gotten caught-up in the ill-conceived “Christmas Wars.”
Take John Gibson, a Fox News anchor who published The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Gibson pieces together outrageous stories from across the country of school boards, city officials, and secular advocates removing Christmas trees and crèches, banning the singing of Silent Night, and forbidding the public utterance of the very word “Christmas.”
Much of this is madness. Renaming the famous conifer a “Holiday Tree,” as officials in Boston recently did, is ridiculous doublespeak. The only holiday involving a tree this season is Christmas. To pretend otherwise does not elevate other faiths – it patronizes them.
Telling parents they cannot decorate their school’s “Winter Party” in red and green, as was reportedly the case in Plano, Texas, some years ago, is no less preposterous. How mere colors can violate the Establishment Clause is beyond anyone’s understanding.
But the adherents to the War-on-Christmas theory also need to stop hyperventilating. There is no evidence of a concerted effort to destroy the holiday.
For instance, the wrath that greeted the official White House “holiday card” this year was unprecedented. Although the White House card has not employed the word “Christmas” since 1992, this year many activists were up in arms over the message: “Best Wishes for the Holiday Season.” Perhaps they have forgotten that the season indeed includes two holy days, even for Christians: Christmas and New Year’s.
Equally perplexing has been the controversy attending Wal-Mart’s and Target’s use of the holiday terminology. Several groups have called for boycotts of the stores because they’ve declined to refer explicitly to Christmas. Maybe the retailers’ opponents have felt left-out of the boycott spirit that animates the leftist campaigns against big-box stores.
In short, there’s little as revolting as a condescending, treacly solicitousness of everyone’s feelings; God forbid anyone should feel the slightest bit “uncomfortable” in December. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with using inclusive language – so long as it’s not absurd.
But where do we draw the line? In trying to gain a healthy perspective on this question, I turned, as usual, to my three-year-old son. A child’s simplicity often cuts right through the complicated nonsense surrounding us.
One morning I joined my son in watching the “holiday episode” of Blue’s Clues, the award-winning children’s show. He looked on in rapt attention as the show’s host toured several houses, each celebrating a different holiday. At the “Christmas house”, special guest Wynonna Judd explained that Christmas is “the celebration of a very special birth.” I was impressed: no wishy-washy stuff about presents or family togetherness but a firm – if oblique – recognition of the holiday’s religious significance.
Next they traveled to the Hanukkah house where they received a brief historical background on the Festival of Lights. But the moment the house appeared, my son’s eyes lit up: “That’s a menorah!” “It’s Hanukkah! I celebrate Hanukkah.” It thrilled him no end to see a big-screen reenactment of the holiday his parents and teachers have taught him about. In this case, a little inclusion went a long way.
And, in fact, inclusion has been the enduring legacy of Christian America, especially when it comes to American Jews. No country in the history of the world has welcomed its Jews as magnanimously as the United States. From George Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, R.I. to George Bush’s legendary Hanukkah parties, the American Jewish experience has been one of nearly unalloyed joy and success. The profoundly respectful treatment that American Christians have accorded the Jewish community has been nothing short of miraculous. This year, as every year, Hanukkah offers a special opportunity to thank God and our Christian brothers and sisters for this modern-day miracle.
For example, the continued and fervent support of religious Christians for the State of Israel has become as necessary as it is gratifying. That some Jewish leaders, like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, have seen fit to impugn the motives of American Christians is deeply disappointing and short-sighted.
The Jews of the world of 2005, like their predecessors in 165 B.C.E., are confronted by enemies who literally wish to wipe us off the face of the earth. But today’s “Greeks” are decidedly not the evangelical Christians. Our community ought to take a moment to recognize that.
More broadly, this weekend we should all take a deep breath and savor the unprecedented religious freedom we enjoy, a freedom stemming not from syncretism or secularism but from a robust religiosity that includes all faiths.
Michael M. Rosen is an attorney in San Diego.
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