Wall Street Journal op-ed: I’m Jewish. Please Wish Me a Merry Christmas., by Mark Oppenheimer:
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I was at my local coffee shop in New Haven, Conn. I had just finished ordering my preferred espresso drink, and as I paid for it the barista said to me, with good cheer, “Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it.” I was genuinely nonplused, and so, without considering how rude it might sound, I blurted back, “Who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving?”
As it turned out, the barista was right there with me. “I know, right?” she said. “But I wished someone a happy Thanksgiving yesterday, and she got annoyed and said, ‘Not my holiday.’ So I’m just being careful.”
I felt her pain. Nobody likes to offend, and Lord knows people do take offense. As Christmas approaches, that worry becomes particularly acute: what to wish people as Dec. 25 nears? My advice in this season—when we proffer many season’s greetings, to strangers of indeterminate beliefs—is just what I said to the barista about Thanksgiving: “Don’t be so careful. Just say what you feel.” Yes, as a proud American Jew, I hereby give permission to my Christian, and secular but Christmas-minded, friends to keep alive the robust, specific “Merry Christmas,” abjuring the weak, vague “Happy Holidays.” ... It’s a perfectly fine way to greet me, even though Hanukkah is my seasonal holiday (albeit one of relatively little religious import). ...
Truly celebrating our country’s growing diversity should mean that all groups feel free to announce their uniqueness, to encounter the other with a strong sense of self. ...
So far I am discussing a hypothetical encounter between strangers. ... [W]hen there is a pre-existing relationship, everything changes. If I meet a friend who knows that I am of the Hebrew persuasion, hearing “Merry Christmas” would indeed seem odd. Instead, my friend might reasonably select “Happy Hanukkah.”
And that’s the spirit, isn’t it? In that spirit, the educated, civic-minded Christian or Jew may greet Muslim friends during the month of Ramadan with a hearty “Ramadan Mubarak!”—blessed Ramadan. On crossing paths with the neighborhood Wiccan around Christmastime, wish her a happy Solstice. The “Seinfeld” fan may appreciate being met with, “A Festivus for the rest of us!” And the village atheist? I recommend, “Cherish this life, in case it is all there is!”