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‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘happy holidays’ shouldn’t divide us

By MEGAN BERKETIS

Contributing columnist

In mid-November, when talk of the upcoming holiday season begins, I’m usually pretty grumpy about it; I’m thinking about bills, money, whether or not my kids deserve gifts, where I can purchase coal, etc.

But by the time December rolls around and the cold sets in, and I’ve grown accustomed to wearing a coat to even look outside, I begin to warm up inside. And by January, I am a sappy love machine settling into the warmth of speaking frequently with friends and family in the midst of freezing rains and high electric bills.

There are moments during December that I struggle, however. I don’t have any family here besides my husband and children, and Facebook is always a good soul-grinder when it comes to showing me what I’m missing out on. But no matter how separated I feel from friends and family, I still love the closeness and heart-warming joy that the holiday season brings.

This year, the Divider-in-Chief proclaimed that we are “taking back Merry Christmas (and it feels so good. So good).” Yet, I now feel that if I wish someone a “Merry Christmas” that aligns me with Trump and his ideology. For me, Trump has hijacked “Merry Christmas” and reinstated a fantasy war that doesn’t actually exist.

The term “Happy Holidays” can be traced back through American documents (literature, newspapers, advertisements) over 100 years. That’s most likely because it is such an obvious term to use for the time from late November to early January, during which time three holidays exist for the majority of Americans. And for me, if I’m going to wish you something, if you are a friend or even a person who held the door for me, I want to wish all that happiness to you. So I’ll say “Happy Holidays.”

The area that I grew up in is 20-percent Jewish; the town I grew up in even more so. But this never made a difference to me in daily life. My best friend, whom I met in seventh grade, is Jewish. I can’t recall when I learned of her religious background, but it definitely was never a defining characteristic of our friendship. I’m assuming that “Happy Holidays” is the term of choice there because, well, you just don’t know. When you are a cashier and you check someone out, you don’t know if he is going home to light a menorah or to put presents under a fir tree in his living room. You still want to wish him well though; you still want to share the holiday warmth that glows within you as we all settle into the cold that is about to come.

If that customer, whom you just checked out, is going home to light his menorah, to recite the prayers that his religious forefathers recited over 1,000 years ago, does that make him less American? It seems that our president believes so.

Although my friend was born in America (as well as her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents), the president has delegitimized her religion and one of its holidays. President Trump’s son-in-law is Jewish, and he has undoubtedly conducted business with many Jews in New York City, yet he proclaims that we are taking back “Merry Christmas.” His actions make him like the man who claims that he can use the N-word because he has a black friend — it’s a hypocritical nightmare, a philosophical blunder.

When were you told not to say “Merry Christmas?” Not when you heard that liberals are trying to get rid of the term — not when you discussed the “war on Christmas” with friends, family, or members of your congregation — when were you directly told not to say “Merry Christmas?”

The answer is most likely never. Because even liberals celebrate Christmas, and everyone welcomes well wishes. So go on, keep saying it. No one is going to be offended. My friend doesn’t care if someone wishes her a “Merry Christmas.” It’s the good feelings and warmth that come from one person wishing well upon another that she cares about.

But identify the situation and its real implications: Even if most of our town, county and region are built upon a single, dominant religion, America is built upon the freedom of religious practice. By the most powerful man in our nation using the words “take back,” he is essentially separating citizens from each other. There is nothing wrong with wishing people “Merry Christmas.” There is, however, a serious issue in claiming that only Christians own well wishes during the month of December.

It’s hard to be separated from family during the holiday season, but it’s even harder to be separated from fellow citizens every day of the year. American identity is not only religious identity. We can all celebrate the season and wish each other well, regardless of which phrase we choose to use.

Megan Berketis is a high-school English teacher. She lives in Danville.