The following is an edited version of an e-mail I sent to a woman who is feeling somewhat guilty about the very public celebration of Christmas.
It bothers me to no end that the majority in North America has to feel guilty about being visible in their beliefs and celebrations.
HERE’S WHAT I WROTE:
Ruth: I am Ken’s friend who wrote the article about my Christmas experiences as a Jewish youth growing up in Montreal.
I am a Secularist. I am also very Jewish in the cultural sense. And I am an Atheist in the religious sense. I am also an unabashed defender of Israel’s right to exist and thrive in security.
I neither believe, nor feel that my cultural philosophies are conflicted.
That said; this Friday is the beginning of Chanukah, and in our home the candles will be lit. Both my wife and I will make the prayers and participate in an age-old Jewish ritual.
We also light Shabbat (Sabbath) candles and make a Barucha (prayer) over wine on most Friday nights in the winter, since it gets dark early, and the Sabbath starts at sundown (Friday) and ends at sundown (Saturday).
There are Mezuzahs (small ornaments which bless the house and identify the occupants as Jews) on all of our exterior doors including our horse barn.
Living amongst Christians, as I did as a youth, and as I do as an adult, has not kept me from visibly practising and enjoying my culture and religion.
There is a Jewish State called Israel, where many, if not most of the people are as Secular as we are. But; it is nonetheless a Jewish State. The only one on the planet.
Even in Israel, Christmas is publicly celebrated with all the bells and whistles by Israeli and visiting Christians.
Canada and the USA are Secular countries where the Christian majority can no longer claim these nations to be Christian. It was very progressive and generous of them to have given up that right. Especially without a fight.
But that is not to say that Canada and the USA are not overwhelmingly Christian. They are.
I believe that religion should not be taught in school, other than as history, or as a cultural expression. And as for Islam and Kwanza (which is a newly contrived celebration), neither of these groups have had anything whatsoever to do with the development of either of these two magnificent countries.
Not only that. They don’t contribute anything today either. Unless you think violence, poverty and intolerance are contributions.
When you look at all Islamic countries, and countries that celebrate Kwanza, you’ll find failed economies, tyrannies, and a lifestyle that would terrify you if that’s where you’d have to call home.
So I’d stop worrying about not including them in the celebration of Judeo/Christian holidays. They can celebrate whatever they wish as long as it does no harm. And we should have that same right without feeling guilty.
For people to have a reluctance to say Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah, because it might offend a Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu or Atheist like me, is ridiculous. And in itself, it is an act of racism.
It’s funny how singing Christian hymns and Christmas Carols never hurt me, or any of my Jewish friends while we were growing up. All it did was make us more aware of the Christian faith, and of our own Jewish identity, history and traditions.
For you to say: “Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me until I was close to 40 to be comfortable with even saying that I am a Jew” because you were surrounded by Christianity, says more about your upbringing, than it says about your Christian surroundings.
Let me be totally clear. I do not want Religion taught or promoted in any public school or government agency. I do not want religion to be a part of our public life. But I also do not want anyone to say, that to publicly celebrate Christmas as a Christian is improper. It is not.
I am not that polite, not to say, that I have no use for Islam. It is a religion that teaches and preaches racial intolerance. It is a road map for discrimination and misogyny. And it is so interpretative that anyone with a gift for the gab can use it to encourage young people to commit suicide in the act of murder.
As for Kwanza. Who the hell knows what it is?
I just came back from business meetings in New York City at the Citicorp building at Time’s Square, where Menorahs are displayed virtually everywhere alongside Christmas decorations. And you know what? It felt good to see it all.
For you to feel guilty about not including all the other religions during Judeo/Christian celebrations, because it seems unfair, well that’s unfair to yourself.
I’d rather be a happy Atheist enjoying the sites, sounds, smells and spirit of these two great festive and happy holidays, than be worried about how my pleasure is going to upset someone who believes otherwise.
Enjoy a Happy guilt free Chanukah. And share the Christmas spirit with your Christian friends. It’s worth it.
As for anyone and everyone else, what they do or don’t do, is neither my business nor my concern.
To my Jewish friends and family: HAPPY CHANUKAH.
To my Christian friends and family: MERRY CHRISTMAS.